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An old boy network, or society (also old boys' club), can refer to social and business connections among former pupils of male-only private schools. The term originated from much of the British elite having attended certain public schools as boys, thus former pupils are "old boys".
This can apply to the network between the graduates of a single school regardless of their gender. It is also known as an old boy society and is similar to an alumni association. It can also mean a network of social and business connections among the alumni of various prestigious schools. In popular language, old boy network or old boy society has come to be used in reference to the preservation of social elites in general; such connections within the British Civil Service formed a primary theme in the British Broadcasting Corporation's satirical comedy series Yes Minister. The phrase "It's not what you know, it's whom you know" is associated with this tradition.
In Australia, the term "Old Boy" is used to describe a male alumnus of some prestigious state and private schools. The term "Old Girl" is similarly used for a female alumna of such schools.
The term is also used in Canada, where the alumni of such schools as St. Andrew's College, Trinity College School, Crescent School, St George's School, Bishop's College School, Hillfield Strathallan College, Lower Canada College, and Upper Canada College are known as Old Boys. Other influential private schools with powerful alumni networks may have become co-ed, such as Appleby College or University of Toronto Schools but operate similarly in which large numbers of alumni all work for the same organization. The old boy network of Upper Canada College has been so influential in the political and business realms of Canada that it became the focus of James Fitzgerald's 1994 book Old Boys: The Powerful Legacy of Upper Canada College (ISBN 978-1551990057).
In Finland, the Finnish term hyvä veli -verkosto (literally dear brother network) is used to refer to the alleged informal network of men in high places whose members use their influence to pervert or circumvent official decision-making processes to the members' mutual benefit. As such, the term is pejorative.
The term derives from the salutation "Hyvä veli!", or "Dear brother!", traditionally used to open a letter to a not quite intimate friend. The implication is that since the elites of all fields are drawn from a fairly small pool of people who are mostly more or less acquainted with each other, they can and often do manage public and private affairs amongst themselves, off the record, and outside public scrutiny as they like. As the word "brother" implies, the network is usually presumed to be consisting of males, and thus the term is also sometimes used to refer to the marginalization of women and their exclusion from high positions in both the public and private spheres. There is an equivalent term, hyvä sisko ("dear sister"), used in reference to informal networks of women in high positions.
President Urho Kekkonen was notable for directly communicating with senior officials (past his cabinets) by means of letters, which famously began with the salutation "Hyvä veli". These have been published in three volumes.
The Doon School maintains its own old boys' society (The Doon School Old Boys' Society) for social connections and fundraising on behalf of the School. Graduates of The Doon School are known as Doscos, or simply, as Old Boys.
Former students of the Welham Boys School refer to their society as the Welham Old Boys Society. Though the school was founded in 1937, the society was not founded until 1983. The group is intended to encourage Welham graduates to aid in the school's success through their union; they have established scholarships and bursaries for deserving students. The Welham Old Boys Network has established definite membership criteria, as well as requiring a subscription fee.
Similarly the Old Boys of Sainik School Rewa in Madhya Pradesh call their Old Boys Association as "Sainwinians."
In the United Kingdom, the "old boy network" is seen as existing primarily among those educated at the fee-paying independent schools of the Eton Group and the Rugby Group (including, but not limited to, Harrow School, Eton College, Shrewsbury School, Charterhouse School, Westminster School, Winchester College, Radley College, Wellington College, and Rugby School, as well as at the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, although to some extent such networks exist for all institutions producing large numbers of "old boys" and girls. The existence of "old boy" networks is often blamed for the high proportion of former pupils of high-status schools and universities in high-status positions in government, business, and other professions. For instance, between them, Harrow and Eton have 26 British prime ministers among their old boys. In practice, attendance at certain educational institutions is typical of the British "ruling class" and upper middle class, and where nepotism exists it may be driven more often by personal relationships than by educational networks.
An organisation called Future First promotes the use of such networks among those educated at state schools.
The term can also refer to the networks that are set up in the more elite secondary schools, such as Diocesan Boys' School, Queen's College, Ying Wa College, La Salle College and Saint Joseph's College.
In New Zealand, many schools maintain old boys/girls/students associations, however the term 'Old boy network' is typically used in reference to the elite public and private secondary schools such as Auckland Grammar School, King's College, Christ's College and Scots College
- The expression old school tie has essentially the same meaning as the Old Boy/Old Girl network. This expression derives from the wearing of school ties by former pupil, to indicate that the wearer is an alumnus or alumna of a particular school or university. This practice is less common now than in former times.
- An Old Girl network has the same meaning with respect to girls' schools as "Old Boy network" has for boys' schools.
- Alumni association
- Association of Representatives of Old Pupils Societies in the UK
- Collective narcissism
- Good ol' boy
- In-group bias
- White shoe brigade
- Jeon-gwan ye-u