Whether you’re an incoming or current student at St Andrews, the elitist culture at the University is well-known. The stereotypical image of St Andrews students presents golf-playing, champagne-drinking Oxford rejects at their ‘royally’ expensive balls. The St Andrews experience is famous for its emphasis on tradition, but also its extremely hard-working student body; in which only 60.2% are from state-funded schools. St Andrews has the least deprived student body of all Scottish universities, prompting an increased conversation surrounding The 93% Club.
The 93% Club is present in a number of elite Russell group universities and was founded at Durham University. Their focus is to level the playing field for state-educated students, and offer support to everyone trying to adjust to university life. In their own words they aim to “voice the experiences and opinions of state school students and specifically address and alleviate our gap in social capital and future career opportunities”. Whilst students from any background or education can join, many argue that the club is divisive and an insult to private-schooled students that face disadvantage outside of their education. However, the club have stated on their Instagram that they acknowledge “the nuanced levels of privilege that exist regardless of educational background”.
For many from less privileged backgrounds, attending a university like St Andrews can be more daunting. As much as we all want to enjoy a £50 May Ball or £150 red gown, the “traditional St Andrews experience” is not easily accessible and deters many deprived students from applying in the first place. Societies like the 93% club can give a sense of community for those from deprived backgrounds in a highly elitist environment.
With such a diverse student body at St Andrews, we should be passionate about creating a culture of equality from the inside; rather than simply box-ticking. When 40% of our student body is privately educated compared to only 7% of the general population, it’s unfair to argue that the state-educated applicants just didn’t work hard enough to earn their place at St Andrews. Society is not meritocratic, and university institutions are a product of that inequality. Positive discrimination is necessary in admissions as there is an unequal playing field in university and in wider society. Regardless of education, there is an intersectionality of discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexuality, class and more.
However, ‘boxing’ people into these attributes helps to focus on the experiences of disadvantaged groups in order to actively tackle inequality. Certain groups hold privilege – this does not mean they do not face difficulty, but it is not because of their education. By collectively acknowledging the advantages of the privately educated, everyone can join together to improve the educational disparity in the St Andrews experience. Additionally, following this year’s A-level and Higher exam results fiasco, there is a greater need to support the state-educated here at St Andrews.
Starting university is a time of great uncertainty not only amidst a global pandemic, but also as young people trying to navigate their way to adulthood. Most people at university are still trying to figure out who they are, meeting others who are also unsure of their future. We all thrive from surrounding ourselves with those of similar experiences, and even more so with the months of isolation brought by COVID-19. Societies at St Andrews allow us to explore interests and feel included, regardless of our educational background. We are all privileged to have the opportunity to attend such a prestigious university like St Andrews, but this opportunity came to some more easily than others.