News’ Tobias Sales reports on a study suggesting that a ‘left-wing bias’ in academic institutions could be harmful
‘Free-Market Think Tank’, The Adam Smith Institute, has concluded ‘individuals with left-wing and liberal views are over-represented in British academia’ following a study into the political views of those working in universities across the Britain.
The authors note the danger of ‘ideological homogeneity’ in education following their recent study into the views of academics and university staff. Separating the political spectrum between the Left, defined as ‘socially liberal as well as left-wing views’, and the Right, classified as ‘socially conservative as well as right-wing views’, it was found that there appears to be a discrepancy between the amount of right-wing support from university staff (12%), against that of the general population (around 50%).
The study also divides the major political parties in terms of Left and Right, before examining the possible bias further. As may be expected, Labour, The Green Party and the Liberal Democrats were classified as left-wing, whilst the the Conservatives and UKIP were deemed right-wing. Citing the Times Higher Education survey, held during the latest General Election, the authors of the study report that the majority of respondents – anybody with a staff email address from a British university – sided with Labour (46%), whilst under 10% voted Conservative; likewise, over 20% of respondents voted Green, compared to the under 1% who voted UKIP, suggesting a dominance in left-wing support.
The report also cites The Brexit Poll as further evidence of a left-wing bias, with 89% of university staff voting Remain – a view the authors consider more left-wing – and only 10% opting for Leave; again, the authors stress, this balance is not proportional with the wider public.
The authors believe that the bias has gradually become more prevalent since the 1960’s, and postulate it could be harmful in a number of ways.
Firstly, the authors believe the systematic bias could result in certain subjects, such as the humanities, being channelled through a left-wing lens, with the report warning that subjects such as psychology and sociology are becoming ‘imbued with left-liberal values’. Another study analysed the semantic field of such subjects, finding their common vocabulary to be ideologically biased.
The gradual erosion of free speech, too, could be fuelled by the systematic bias found across university campuses, through the implementation of speech codes, the banning of certain speakers, and heckling, the report claims. This further aids in the continuation of a dominant ideology at learning institutions.
Even funding could be affected, the report says, with studies and papers adopting a right-wing stance being economically diminished, despite the fact there is ‘not necessarily any direct evidence’ for this claim.
Before the authors delve into the reasons as to why this bias has emerged in academia, they first expostulate an erroneous belief: that intelligence causes the academic bias. Due to a lack of research on British universities, the authors themselves analysed the effect intelligence has on political belief. This study compared the representation of political support with those with the highest 5% of IQ’s in the country, to the general population. Support for the Conservative party in the general population sits at 35%, which is very close to the 36% of support in the most intelligent group. The results for Labour support are similar: 40% in the general population, and 35% in the group with the highest intelligence.
The answer for this divide, according to the study, is a mixture of elements, including: social homophily, whereby employers recruit those similar to themselves, and political typing, in which an institution earns a reputation for a certain political philosophy, encouraging those who share it to apply. Despite this, those with right-conservative views may be employed, but within time, they may ‘reorient their views toward left-liberal majority viewpoint’, the authors explain.
The authors report that certain personality traits can lead to the bias: ‘openness to experience’, one of the given characteristics of the ‘five-factor model of personality’ are more likely to support left-wing political groups, according to the Understanding Society survey. Individuals within this group are also more likely to be artistic, creative and intellectually curious and so, ‘as a consequence, they may be predisposed towards intellectually stimulating careers, such as academia’.
On a micro scale, this proclivity also manifests itself in how the individual’s mind operates, as the report explains that ‘conservatives exhibit a cognitive style that makes them ill-suited for scholarly endeavour.’
‘The peculiarity of [academics] social class positions’ could impact their political beliefs, too, says the study, as they reportedly ‘receive low incomes relative to their advanced educational attainment and rich cultural capital.’