THE BLOG

My Financial Estrangement at a Top University

28/05/2013 15:13 BST | Updated 27/07/2013 10:12 BST

I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Warwick, a 'bubble' campus closer to Coventry than the town of Warwick and ranked fifth in the country according to the Guardian's University League Table 2013. Although it might not be Oxbridge, I felt like I'd done pretty well by getting in. I have always been in comprehensive education; my secondary school did not win any prizes with OFSTED and absorbed the city's three largest council estates as part of its catchment area. I was one of three members of sixth form in my school cohort who went to a Russell Group university. Discipline in classrooms was non-existent, resources were largely missing or ruined, teenage pregnancy rates were sky-high, and if you were clever, you kept it pretty quiet.

Starting university can be intensely exciting and equally nerve-wracking, it marks the bridging of the huge gap between sixth form and degree-level learning, and you have to be prepared to meet a tonne of new people. I'm not shy and I was keen to make new friends, ignorant of the fact that I would quickly become the odd one out simply because I had not received an elite education similar to that of my new peers. I tried to make light of my 'pauper' status, whist secretly being filled with shame about where I lived, what my parents did and especially where I'd gone to school.

According to The Telegraph, the average fees for private schools have now reached £11,500 per year, soaring at twice the rate of inflation and guaranteeing that the majority of students who have attended a paying institution will be from wealthy backgrounds (excluding those who won scholarships or received bursaries). Research by the Sutton Trust Charity in 2011 revealed that five independent schools in England sent more pupils to Oxbridge over three years than two thousand others combined. Inequality is clearly present in our higher education system as state school pupils are significantly less likely to win places at top universities, and as one of those pupils, I experienced university as a place where financial separations were unhappily apparent.

In my first year, I was informed by a tutor that students who had attended independent schools were more likely to be 'confident' and 'well-prepared' than those who had received a state education, and that this would help propel them through their degrees. This revelation confirmed my fears: I'd been to a rubbish school and therefore couldn't possibly fit in or succeed at university. However, research undertaken by the National Foundation for Educational Research found in 2010 that state school pupils were likely to perform better at degree level than their private school counterparts, because a more independent style of learning allowed them to reach their full potential.

I did succeed at university, despite the nagging sensation that I was trapped in a rich kids' club, and am now completing a Masters degree. The varied nature of the people you come into contact with is one of the most rewarding and integral parts of the university experience, which is why it is so important that top institutions do all they can to attract bright candidates from poorly performing schools. Russell Group universities should not be homogenized by an overwhelming majority of students from elite independent schools, a phenomenon that may sadly be increased by the current government's decision to raise tuition fees to £9,000 per year. If you've gone to a good university from a comprehensive school, don't fall into the trap of thinking that students from more privileged educational backgrounds are 'better at university' than you are. Sure, they might on average have more money than you, but getting the best degree you can is about dedication and hard work, not the household income of your parents.