Class discrimination goes beyond Russell Groups, and Trent is no different
Only 33 per cent of our students are from a working class background
According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, seven Russell Group universities decreased their intake of poorer background students. But is the class inequality really just an issue in our more esteemed universities?
As a student from a “working class” background myself, coming to Trent has been somewhat eyeopening. The class inequalities began before I even enrolled. A family friend who encouraged me every step of the way to go to university, fully analysed all my university choices and which financially offered me the best bursary schemes in accordance to my parents income.
It just so happened that Trent was the worst of my five choices. Every February, 2014 entry bursary recipients receive a £300 cash sum from the university, but we also receive reduced tuition fees of £7,700 a year. To put this in perspective, students from similar backgrounds at the University of Nottingham receive £3000 in cash, eligible to 20.1 per cent of their students. Recently, another student told me her brother receives a bursary of £1000 in cash from the University of Liverpool, whereas she receives nothing at Trent.
The bursary at Trent has changed in the two years since I started, students now receive £1000 in cash which is paid in three instalments throughout the academic year. Whilst I would have preferred this form of bursary myself, this means in two years of inflation our university has actually decreased the amount of financial relief given to its lower income students.
Adding insult to injury, Trent cap the amount of students they award the bursary to, meaning there are some low-income background students who have to go without the bursary scheme others have the luxury of receiving.
Coming to university with a broad regional accent has probably been the most obvious class divide in my case. One of my best friends who I have met since moving to Nottingham, grew up six miles away from me at home and you’d never guess – purely due to accents. My accent is the reason why I’ll struggle to get started in a journalism career, and would I have it if I’d grown up somewhere other than a council estate? Probably not.
I just about get by on what I am provided by student finance. I have to watch my outgoings a bit more than students whose parents pay their rent. I am lucky in the respect I know how to budget well and stay out of my overdraft. This isn’t the case for everyone, and in first year I couldn’t afford to stay in the halls I wanted to. I ended up in private halls, very nice private halls, but at a fraction of a price compared to Byron or Gill Street South.
I’ve read many time that being working-class is often fetishised, but I don’t see that personally. I don’t understand why anyone would want to. Having to grow up worrying how your single mother would pay the bills isn’t something to fetishise. Missing out on residential trips and the humiliating experience of free-school dinners isn’t something to fetishise. Growing up in a predominantly white, middle-class village as a mixed race child isn’t something to fetishise. Being the first in your family to go to university and not having a clue what to expect is hard. The pressure of knowing you need to do well to better your life is even harder.
People lie to Student Finance about their parents financial situation to get more funding, whereas I need that money to live. I spend all summer working just to be able to afford Freshers’ Week when our money doesn’t even come through till three weeks after, and I’ve already had to pay a months rent when I’ve not been able to afford to live there. As a working class student, you can’t afford to fall back on your parents when they’re struggling as much as you are.
There’s a national silent struggle for low-income background students, people presume that a loan and grant is handed to us and we’re laughing all the way to the shopping centre. Trent does little to relieve students of this burden, especially in comparison to Russell Groups; though there are many more universities with more low-income background students than us. At a university where our Chancellor was paid such an abnormally high wage it reached national news, you would expect a more compassionate bursary system.
Social mobility is somewhat of a historical myth, and with a government who despises its student population so much, I can’t see an improvement in the near future. University still feels like an option for the few, not many. It’s not other students that treat us with common contempt, it’s the institutions we’re paying for our education.