Bristol students need to check their privilege


By Maia Miller-Lewis, Deputy Online Comment Editor

Surrounded by the madness of freshers’ week, it is easy to get caught up in the University bubble. Freshers need to acknowledge their privilege both as a student and as a new citizen of Bristol.

Flattered by choice, 21st century students no longer believe that going to university is a prize earned through hard-work and dedication. More and more, ascendance to higher education is framed as an inalienable right, something we are entitled to by virtue of Western birth.

But, we must not underestimate what a privileged position we are in. According to UCAS, if you are eighteen, you are one of only 27.9 percent of your age group in the UK that will start university this September. Coming up trumps, you will spend at least the next three years of your life dedicated to a subject you hopefully enjoy. If not, you will spend three years titillating over a teenage fancy. Ordinarily, £27,750 would seem a lot to spend on a whim. Yet, a countless number of student are pouring money into studying subjects they have no real interest or intent to use in the future.

But why?

Simple. University grants you a unique kind of freedom that allows you to move away from home, play house and make new relationships, all funded by the government! It is a pretty good deal.

As a result, your perspective on what you can do, career or otherwise will be coloured by privilege. Although not inevitable, more than likely your time at university will give you the confidence to go out into the world with the belief that you are deserving of respect and a good job.

In fact, in the world of work, an undergraduate degree will earn you on average £10,000 more per year than non-graduates.

Argument can be made to support the legitimacy of this income difference, but we should not underestimate the effect university has on our personal development in relation to work. Having a degree does not guarantee that you are any more intelligent than someone who has not got one. It just means you have had longer to think about what you want in life without having the pressure of earning a living wage.

your perspective on what you can do, career or otherwise will be coloured by privilege

Immersion within day to day student life ultimately distances you from the social reality of modern society, which is becomingly increasingly polarised by austerity and individualism.

With Bristol being one of the worst offending institutions for state school representation, even your exposure to different social circumstances and upbringings is muted. When you first move into halls, it is unlikely you will meet people whose experience is that far removed from your own, with only 16.1 percent of people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds being accepted this year into UK universities. This may make you feel at home within your new environment, but it does nothing to challenge the social disparity between the most and least affluent groups in society or inspire a true discourse around privilege.

Immersion within day to day student life ultimately distances you from the social reality of modern society

With the majority of students coming from middle class backgrounds, reactions and opinions towards university accommodation epitomises unacknowledged privilege.

Naturally, there are legitimate complaints about your living arrangements. Contextualised beyond the student community, however, most quibbles are relatively facile. With over 11,500 families on the social housing waiting list, the size of your room is not really an issue.

Unhappy that you have to share a bathroom with three other people? Take a step back and consider the 128 percent rise in homelessness in Bristol in the past three years.

It is not surprising that most students swaddled within the Stoke Bishop and Clifton bubbles are ignorant to the fact that Bristol is not just a playground for the elite. 73,400 people in Bristol live in one of the 10 percent most deprived areas in England. That is 16 percent of the population. Face to face meeting with this level of poverty is easily missed, being concentrated in areas such as Lawrence Hill, an area most Bristol student will never of even heard of. But it does not mean it is not there.

73,400 people in Bristol live in one of the 10% most deprived areas in England

None of this is meant to come across as a personal indictment of your character.

We are all guilty of turning a blind eye and getting stuck in our own heads. Privilege is unavoidable- you do not need to apologies for it. Just be aware of it. Part of becoming an adult is understanding that the world is not black and white, and that your experience is not universal.

University is a positive privilege. Use this time wisely and never take it for granted.

Featured image: Flickr/Heather Cowper