Are Class Divides Prominent at University?


Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

When sitting in lectures or seminars with your peers, or seeing others walk about campus, class doesn’t particularly stand out. Perhaps if you were to attend a more explicitly liberal uni, like say Bristol, or one that’s predominantly for those who are wealthy, like Oxford or Warwick, then class may stand out more. But Southampton University doesn’t particularly scream rich or poor, as everyone here tends to dress either ‘indie’, sporty, preppy or bland; none of these choices making clear their class.

However, though there may not be an explicit divide through appearance, conversations do make clear which tax brackets peoples’ families belong to. For instance, one student exclaimed around election time that Labour couldn’t win as their family would be ‘too heavily taxed‘. Another complaining that their fairly new Ford Focus was a gift from their parents, who forced them to decide between getting either a new car, or a second ‘pony’ – they still seemed torn up that they were only allowed one. These comments certainly make clear that said individuals’ are from wealthy backgrounds, but this only become explicit once they spoke rather than it being instantly observable.

A major way in which class can be established at uni is if someone is able to play a sport, particularly if they partake in multiple sport societies. Though this may sound a little far-fetched, when you consider the cost of a sport and wellbeing pass, joining fees for the sport itself, uniform, match/travel expenses, the cost of weekly socials, and so on, the initial costs add up to roughly £200-300 for most sport societies. Of course, there are cheaper ones to join, or more casual sports that you pay a small weekly fee for, but in terms of sports that would compete in Varsity, prices are extremely high. For students whose families can lend them money, or have a large disposable income, joining a sport is no issue. But for those who struggle with battling their overdraft each month to try to pay rent, joining a sport would force them to choose between eating and paying bills that month or becoming part of a sports team.

Another massive sign of wealth at university is how each student spends their Christmas, Easter and Summer holidays, or rather where. Again, as overheard in a lecture, one student bragged about their holiday to the Caribbean Islands, quickly adding that it was ‘very, very expensive‘. Many will spend their summers volunteering abroad (which typically costs over £1000), and their winters on the annual family skiing holiday, whilst those of lower class and wealth will spend most of their breaks working. Though this is not the fault of students whose families have such disposable incomes, it is an easy way to spot the difference between those who are only a ‘poor uni student‘ and those who are genuinely from a poor socio-economic background.

Finally, an instant indicator of class at uni is how someone got in to university. For instance, those from poorer areas may have been offered the lowest 5% acceptance, whereby grades are dropped from AAB to BBB or similar, whilst those from richer backgrounds were required to meet the AAB offer, but somehow still got in with only BBC. Obviously intake is impacted by the number of applicants, with the university accepting lower grades if less people have applied, but even so, someone receiving remarkably lower grades than needed, and still being accepted, probably had some family clout or financial sway.

Overall, class is not immediately noticeable at uni, or not at University of Southampton at least. However, through conversations, how students spend their uni breaks, whether they’re part of a sport, and how they got accepted into uni divisions of wealth crop up and become evident the more people you meet.


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