Music Editor Aimee Sargeant argues that, despite provisions making University more accessible to students from working class backgrounds, university life can still be quite an alienating experience

Written by Aimee Sargeant
Second-year Music Editor

When joining university two years ago, I did not fully comprehend or realise the amount of students from differing backgrounds I would meet. By coming to a higher education institution, it highlights the existing differences between students from different backgrounds. Coming from a comprehensive state school, within an area that is relatively working and middle class, and an area that is ranked the 13th most deprived local authority in England, my experience in the schooling system is highly different to anyone who went to an independent/private or grammar school. Even though there is a similarity in the content taught and exams taken, within comprehensive state school you face other challenges. 

Within comprehensive state schools, university is not the most accessible institution to get into. There are more barriers in place than I first realised when I was applying to university. A recent report states that half the schools that teach the privileged 20% of students in the country (private and grammar schools) have one (if not more) dedicated ‘university advisor.’ In my school, we didn’t have a university advisor. In the same report, it states that just one third of state secondary schools appoint in-house specialists. This is due to there being less money to hire such professionals. The report also states that one in six secondary schools were not approached by a higher education institution for the purposes of outreach in the six months prior to being surveyed.

Institutions such as Birmingham offer the A2B scheme, the idea of this is that the institution becomes more accessible to individuals from more disadvantaged backgrounds than other students. I was made aware of this scheme by my Deputy Head of Sixth Form when applying to UCAS. This scheme gives individuals a fairer chance to access higher education, but is also not promoted that loudly. I didn’t even see it when applying. This is even more prevalent in Oxbridge. The vast majority of state school offers (more than two thirds) went to 300 schools. These schools represent ‘the highest performing 10% of state schools in the country and are mostly grammar schools, highly selective sixth-form colleges or academies in wealthy areas.’ Regular comprehensive schools are more disadvantaged, just because of the area and the performance of the school – something that may not reflect an individual’s performance. Top universities often speak loudly about their state school intake, but these figures prove that it can just be a PR stunt.

Top universities often speak loudly about their state school intake, but these figures prove that it can just be a PR stunt

I am the first person in my family to go to university, and when I got the offer back from Birmingham, I was definitely ecstatic. After the controversy of predicted grades being used after A-Level exams were cancelled, I definitely saw more inequality in the world of education. Figures that were published by the Joint Council for Qualifications showed there was a 20% point gap between independent schools and state schools in 2019, however, in 2020 this rose to 31%. Furthermore, this was 35% between independent and state sixth form colleges. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds were among the most affected throughout this controversy. The reason for this is still completely baffling to me, the area and school’s performance should never reflect what an individual is capable of.

Many people lost places at top universities or apprenticeships because of the controversy. This event opened my eyes more to the inequalities faced between different incomes and privileges that are available to different students. I was originally told I couldn’t make it to Birmingham, and yet I made it and am happily getting on with my degree. However, these misconceptions and stigmas are still with me. I often experience imposter syndrome and compare myself to others who I think deserve to be here more, partially down to background and grades. Even my accent, which is slightly more northern than others, can make me feel like I stand out in a room where the majority of people have a southern accent. It has made me revisit how I view my personal achievement and position within education.

It has made me revisit how I view my personal achievement and position within education

Meeting various people that have experienced a similar background to me, feel the exact same way. Everyone I have met at university comes from different backgrounds. Within my house at university, we often chat about the difference in our backgrounds and what our schooling experience was like. It really opens your eyes since we are all not from the same location or background. However, the thing that does give us equality is the fact that we attend the same university, live in the same house, and pay the same bills. We are also friends. Even though the education system seems to cause more inequality and believes it can cause factions within the class system (which it no doubt does with certain students and universities), I have found that the people I have made friends with certainly do not judge or care about your personal experience within the education or class system. 

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