How much does having attended – or not – private school affect your life at the University of Exeter? The University has been named in the top ten universities in the UK with the lowest state school intake by The Telegraph, with 69.1%. How does this impact building a sense of community at university between students? How do students feel about each other? A quick browse through Exehonestly reveals a sense of annoyance towards private school students; while this is frequently expressed towards their mannerisms, it actually stems from their privilege. Indeed, private schooling provides so much more than state schools usually can; private schools have more funds to spend per student, smaller class sizes (linked to higher chances of success, and understanding of the material), and guide students much more throughout their uni applications. Brochures for these schools also emphasize their “open-mindedness”, and boast about the extracurriculars they offer. Interestingly, students who have actively joined extracurriculars in their time at school – a sports team, for example – are more likely to pursue this once at uni, and subsequently integrate a thriving social scene. It is worth noting sports team memberships are expensive, and it is generally easier for private school students to afford one without worry.
While students may feel a sense of exasperation towards private school students, some of them have caught on, and refuse to divulge how they were educated or where in order to ‘fit in’ and overcome their quasi sense of shame.
Yet this does not erase how primordial education is in order to secure a job and place in life, among other things. It has been proven time and time again that going to private school greatly increases your chances of succeeding; that is not to say that state or grammar school students are less worthy of or less smart than their peers, but simply that their lack of opportunities and privilege provides more obstacles for them to overcome. Despite private school students reporting being asked for higher grades for university offers – a requirement linked to the fact private school students have, on average, higher grades to start with – it has not significantly impacted the issue at hand. The Guardian remarks, “What particularly defines British private education is its extreme social exclusivity”, which they explain by stating: “In 2018 the average day fees at prep schools were, at £13,026, around half the income of a family on the middle rung of the income ladder.” Consequently, private schools are typically inaccessible for many UK families, and create bubbles for the wealthy which they do not escape from if they continue on to ‘bubble’ universities, comprised of a significant number of private school students, and then continue on to well-paid jobs. Even if private schools advertise their open-mindedness, it is an ironic promise they fail to fulfil.
As an international student, the British private school issue was not immediately apparent to me, but after asking around (“What is ‘Exetah’?”, “What’s the difference between all these kinds of schools?”) I was able to get a better understanding of the situation. My perspective may not be that of an insider, but I can say that most students coming from outside the UK come from private or international schools. Why? They usually teach better English and are more likely to encourage their students to apply abroad or know how to help them with the unique application process. While school systems around the world do not face quite the same problems as each other, privately funded education offering more opportunities is a recurring theme.
Networking opportunities are a priceless (or not) benefit offered by private schools to their students; but if they burst their bubble at uni, could their friends from different backgrounds benefit from it too? Is it the University’s responsibility to ensure students from all kinds of backgrounds – such as economic and social backgrounds, different nationalities or ethnicities – mingle together? Considering the University’s diversity problem, it becomes apparent this is yet another symptom of it.
Although it is tempting to let the University figure out how to deal with this by itself – and it definitely should put in more effort – it is also fundamental for students to be self-aware, acknowledge their privilege, and step out of their comfort zone. Uni is such a strange place filled with so many different, interesting people. It would be a shame not to dive in.
– Juliette Simon