There’s still a huge class division at UCL
You feel it, too
Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were little? A rockstar ballerina? A mad scientist astronaut? A pirate? Do you remember how no one, no matter how ridiculous your vision seemed, ever told you it was unattainable?
Fast forward a few years, say sixth form. What you want to do now has hopefully matured into something beyond the realms of Neverland.
This time, maybe, the adults are a little more realistic, and tell you flatly if you’re the most God-awful mathmatician they have ever come across. Whatever. You make your decision on your course, get your grades, work hard and head off into the sunset. It’s the great social mobility dream: onwards and upwards for the bright and the brave.
There’s one thing the grown ups don’t tell you. You can go to Cambridge. You can go to Oxford. You can go to UCL; whatever you set your heart on. But you won’t have the same opportunities or hopes as a small number of your peers.
There isn’t some secret university with extra classes no one tells you about. There isn’t some amazing drug that costs millions, but will make you smarter and more hard working. It’s much more mundane, but just as segregating.
Elitist clubs. They are sneaky about it, don’t get me wrong, but they’re rife at UCL. They don’t ban you on account of your bloodline or how RP you sound. They don’t refuse you on the grounds of not liking your parents or your state school education. It’s much simpler, and much, much more legally covert – entrance fees and costs.
Whether it’s Polo Club, Skiing, Horse riding or Tibetan mountain climbing, there is a clear line between those who can splash out an extra few hundred quid, and those who can’t. It’s very effective. Pandora and Harry can go zooming off to the alps, networking like crazy with the children of lawyers, stockbrokers and hedge fund managers. Everyone else may be able to afford a trip to Stonehenge for the weekend, but that’s it.
Take the Polo society. If playing croquet on horses is your thing, jolly good luck to you and I hope you score lots of whatever it is that happens. I’m sorry. I’m an ignorant prole who would be much happier playing netball. Maybe yoga. At a push, rounders.
But why do I do these things? Mostly because it’s a bit of fun and an excuse to try something different. But Polo Club really gets my goat, or rather, pony. Polo Club has very little to do with actually batting a ball around a field on long sticks while riding a large animal, it’s merely a chance for a few desperate social climbers to hang on to a horse with a few sneering young aristos. I could be wrong.
Skill has nothing to do with it, in case you’re wondering if I’m just bitter. An friend of mine hasn’t been on a horse in two years and openly confessed to not knowing the rules. Same with skiing – foot the bills, they’ll teach you. Pay up, get the hoodie and you’re in. Granted, I doubt they’re all miserable playing horse croquet in the middle of a field, or breaking their legs on frozen rocks, any more than the wine society are tasting horrible fermented grapes. It’s an acquired taste, I get that. I’m not a dictator. I’m not saying we shouldn’t allow typically upper echelon societies at uni to exist.
What gets me is the division between the rich people clubs, and the poor people clubs at university. I and my fellow middle earthians can do LGBT and Feminism and Dinosaur Appreciation with as much vigour as we choose: but the high cost societies effectively segregate the classes.
There, I said it. It doesn’t need to have ‘Bullingdon’ slapped on it to be a problem. That’s really not why I’m so up in arms about it. It really is the division. Studying in London is expensive enough as it is, if you’re from a low to middle class family, there’s no way you can be dishing out the extra hundred pound here, £50 there for a hoodie or a trip to Iceland.
I’m not especially clever or talented, I can pretty much accept I am where I am today because of my privilege, like the majority of UCL students. But then there’s a whole new level the Polo players and the Snow-sporters reach. Class division is a serious thing, and class privilege needs to be recognised.
The fact it continues on at university, and a great one like UCL at that – the thing the government hails as ‘a provider of social mobility to the top’ is so unequal in extra activities just horrifies me.
It means even the kids who had worked really hard at school in the countries most appalling establishments still had only a tiny chance of making the contacts and making a success of it. It’s all very well having a First from UCL, but if a 2.2 student who knows the son of Goldman Sachs’ chief investor from alpine skiing society, he’s going to get in front of you in the queue.