What uni was like in the noughties, according to students who were there

‘You would never be let into a club wearing trainers’

The UK is about to be hit by a recession. And I’m not just talking about a little, itty bitty recession. It’s a chonk of a recession. The job market is in tatters right now, and even pub work is hard to come by. As a result, UCAS saw university applications rise by 17 per cent during the peak of lockdown with panicked teens realising that spending three years in lectures and (mainly) the pub while you wait for it all to blow over à la Shaun of the Dead actually isn’t a bad idea at all. University is essentially them cryogenically freezing themselves in the hope that when they wake up times might be a bit more Futurama and roaring 20s than Black Death and Great Depression. Except this cryogenic freezer costs over 36k in student debt repayments. Yikes.

But whatever time period you wake up in, however different the outside world is, university life remains the same. It’s a strange bubble you live in for three years and everyone’s uni experience is very much “same same but different.” The current students are staring down the barrel of a recession, but so were the students of the 2000s, even if some of them didn’t realise it yet. They were still drinking, skipping lectures and going to the pub like the students of current day – they just did it in denim miniskirts and with an empty space in their brain where an understanding of Zoom should be.

So, for a whimsical throwback to the days where The Strokes played gigs in UK student unions and everyone drank Snakebite and hosted toga parties, here’s what uni was like in the 2000s, according to the people who were there.

Everyone had flip phones, not smart phones

The weird thing about uni in the 2000s is that it wasn’t littered with iPhones and everything that comes with them. Photos were taken on actual cameras, not phones, and more likely to be printed out than posted online. One late 00’s student, who was still at uni in 2010 said: “I remember my mate getting an iPhone 4 and being able to pull up sports scores on a whim, we were easily wowed back then.” According to all the grads I asked, no one took selfies. They just weren’t a thing at that time.

What’s weirder is that some of the 00s grads I spoke to preceded cellphones. One early 00s graduate said: “I had a pager for a while. Eventually I got a small brick Nokia and then a flip Ericsson phone. I downloaded MPs and recorded them onto minidisc so I could listen whilst I commuted into campus.” Apple Music and Spotify ceased to exist! Not a world I want to live in.

That belt just SCREAMS 2009

Social media was entirely different

“I remember when Facebook came out and someone saying ‘it’s like the new MySpace’,” one grad said. “Wifi wasn’t really big back then so I remember having to buy an especially long cable and network router so me and my flatmate could have internet in our rooms.”

Another graduate, who left Glasgow uni in 2008, said: “We had Facebook, MySpace and Bebo, but it hadn’t really taken off on phones, so wasn’t all-engrossing like Snapchat/TikTok is now. It was still pretty common to meet and chat with people online, but it had to move to texting, as there wasn’t WhatsApp or anything like that.”

People would occasionally post their night out pictures online, but it was mainly status updates in the mid 2000s. Plus, the debut of Facebook meant it still required a university email (Facebook was originally launched as Harvard only and then expanded, for anyone who hasn’t seen The Social Network or fell asleep half way through). And it was very different back then, too. “Initially there wasn’t even a home page like there is now,” one grad told me, “if you wanted to see stuff people posted you had to search for them and go to their profile page.”

Then when it became big, it was still mainly used for “pokes” (remember Facebook pokes? What a throwback) with a grad saying: “Myspace was the main social media but it wasn’t used like Facebook is these days. Facebook arrived around 2007 (in the mainstream uni) so it was used towards the end a bit for events and photosharing (and throwing sheep/pokes).”

‘We wore cowboy boots and juicy couture tracksuits’

The fashion was decidedly different. One 2005 grad told The Tab: “My mates were all wearing denim skirts with cami tops and cowboy boots,” with another adding “Me and my friends all used to wear that combo! I definitely committed a few crimes against fashion during my uni days including a pink velour Juicy Couture tracksuit and low rise jeans that were covered in diamanté. Cringe.”

Another graduate, who started uni in 2008, added: “For me it was the height of Geordie Shore on telly so fashion choices were…not good. I look back at what I was wearing and it’s honestly tragic. Leggings were for under dresses and shorts. You did not wear them as trousers. Everyone straightened their hair, all the time.”

Drinks were CHEAP

“£1 pints, 80p spirit and mix. You’d get an entire night out for a tenner – eight pints and two quid for chips on the walk home,” one ex-Newcastle student said. I know it’s the North but those kinds of prices are inconceivable in 2020, even in the Toon!

People hung out together based on their music tastes

From what I was told, uni just seemed generally a lot more indie back in the 2000s, but even indie kids had their divides. An early 00s grad said: “There was a big focus on subcultural groups. Much more than now – everyone seems more homogenous. Back then people would socialise in groups that shared the same interests. You’d have the indie kids, metal kids, bookish sorts, ravers, etc.

“It was all largely down to musical preferences, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s lessened due to the ways music’s consumed now (Spotify etc). Now it seems everyone’s a little of each group rather than dedicated to one over another.”

You would never be allowed into a club wearing trainers

“Oh my god the idea of going to a club in trainers!!!” one grad exclaimed. “It just wasn’t done! You wore heels and had a folded up pair of dolly shoes in your handbag for the end of the night.” A male graduate added: “Used to wear Ralph Lauren shirts when going out with smart shoes, trainers not allowed.”

It was the last ‘non-woke’ generation of students

“I feel like my generation of students was the last non-woke one – the union put on pimps and ho parties, the rugby team sexually assaulted each other for banter,” a 2009 grad said. Another added: “Yeah, we often had dodgy themed nights where we’d dress up: school uniforms, togas, Baywatch, pimps and hoes, chavs (we had a lot of Hooray Henry types and they particularly enjoyed that one).”

There were no dating apps

“There was no Tinder etc and so you had to get laid by the traditional way of pulling somebody in a club,” a student said. Another confirmed, “Yeah, sex was direct pre-internet. Less time wasters.”

People smoked in pubs

“It’s weird looking back at the time when you could light up in a pub or club,” a grad said. Apparently students in the 2000s smoked weed fairly regularly, and a fair few did party drugs like MD, but students doing coke was very rare.

The SU was a waaay bigger deal

A 2005 graduate told The Tab: “It was all about the Student Union back then – there were something like eight bars in the place, and a huge club space in the basement where there would be gigs during the week and club nights at the weekend. I went back to visit a couple of years ago and was sad to see that all but one of the bars had closed and all the spaces were being used for student services. During the week you’d finish lectures and meet your pals in the Union for a few Snakebites, then maybe head into town later for one of the student nights in town.”

The fees were £1,000 a year, not £9,000

Imagine that. Plus, the maintenance costs weren’t as bad either. A Newcastle grad I spoke to told me “I think the most I paid a month for a room in a houseshare was about £40 a week.” Oh, to be a Newcastle student paying £40 a week. What a life!

Overall, 2020 students may be facing a recession and living through a pandemic, but so were 2000s students. Many of them were hit by 2008 and the shockwaves after it, and the pandemic of denim skirts and cowboy boots was clearly raging ahead. Be grateful you managed to at least avoid that, class of 2023.

*All images are thanks to Tim Westwood’s Fresher’s Tour 2009 (Yes, he has been doing freshers tours for that long. It makes me depressed too) and Bath’s Campus TV Freshers coverage for 2009.

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