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Half of UK undergraduates at the University of Edinburgh come from the wealthiest backgrounds

The Student can reveal that 50 per cent of undergraduate entrants from the UK are from the most affluent backgrounds. 

This figure is a consecutive average and is established by ACORN, the main demographic tool used by the University of Edinburgh and other universities across the UK to identify widening participation students. 

This system places students into five categories, based on the socio-economic position of their households prior to coming to university. 

The first category, of which 50 per cent of UK undergraduates belong to, entails the most ‘affluent achievers’ of society. 

Examples of this include those who have asset-rich families, social importance, and ‘lavish metropolitan lifestyles’.

Both Categories 2 and 3 include those who are financially ‘comfortable’, such as educated families who have well-established professional careers, and live in more costly, cosmopolitan areas.

The fourth category consists of others who are in a slightly better financial situation, but who live in different circumstances, such as those living in more rural landscapes or post-war terraced housing, with large families on low incomes, often undertaking manual and labour work. 

When living in term-time accommodation, the majority of students fit into Category 4.

The lowest category, Category 5, contains those on low incomes and experiencing considerable ‘difficult circumstances’, such as those living in deprived areas or purpose-built estates and with large, financially stretched families. 

Education background of students at the University of Edinburgh

The 93 % club, an organisation which actively campaigns for students at a disadvantage because of their background, have stated that on average, 93 per cent of UK students are state educated.

However, The Student has learned from a recent Freedom of Information Request that the number of state-educated undergraduate entrants at the University of Edinburgh for the 2020/2021 academic year is only 58 per cent.

Whilst only 7 per cent of students across the UK are privately educated, they represent 32 per cent of students at the University of Edinburgh. 

The remaining 10 per cent of UK undergraduate entrants at the University of Edinburgh are labelled as ‘not applicable’ in the Freedom of Information Request.

The inquiry also found that only 48 per cent of English and Scottish undergraduate entrants come from Scotland. 

22 per cent come from London and the South East of England, whereas an average of 6 per cent of students come from the Midlands, the North East and North West of England.

Experiences of Classism at the University of Edinburgh

A survey was conducted to gather experiences from students and staff at the University of Edinburgh, who have encountered instances of classism and elitism.

The University of Edinburgh does not recognise classism as a form of discrimination in their ‘Dignity and Respect Policy’. 

100 per cent of students surveyed believed that classism is a form of discrimination, and 93 per cent believed that the University of Edinburgh should acknowledge classism as a form of discrimination. 

Over half of those surveyed had been discriminated against because of their regional accent, and 45 per cent had been discriminated against because of their socio-economic background.

One student detailed an instance of classism they experienced whilst in a tutorial, which was focused on a poem about benefits. 

They claim that their tutor stated that none of the students ‘would understand what being on benefits feels like’, despite this particular student coming from a family that received benefits. 

Many students reported instances where they were told by academic staff members to quit their part-time jobs in order to focus more on their studies, despite the fact that such jobs are necessary for many students in order to fund their time at university.

A student turned to the law department for help when they experienced timetable clashes that meant they were unable to attend shifts at work. 

The staff members dealing with this issue responded in an ‘extremely condescending manner’, by sending emails with timestamps and corrections for grammar and colloquial language. 

The student reached out to the Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Mathieson, to report these instances of ‘blatant classism’. 

However, Mathieson responded by stating that it was ‘purely an academic issue’, and offered no further help. 

A current staff member at the University of Edinburgh also provided examples of their colleagues having elitist attitudes, favouring those from more advantaged backgrounds.

They made the following comment:

“I listen to colleagues openly state that they discriminate against non-Russell Group entrants during the selection process, believing them to produce inferior degrees. 

“They are more overbearing and rude with staff members who are working class. 

“I believe that this is because they think they can get away with it.

“The inherent classism in the university is deeply entrenched and leads to discrimination, particularly during selection processes where individual departments are allowed to use non-standard processes such as recalculating grades to include first and second-year grades.

“This discriminates against working class students who may need longer to learn study skills.”

What next?

Many students stated that the obvious starting point for the University of Edinburgh is to recognise classism as a form of discrimination in their ‘Dignity and Respect Policy’.

This will allow students who report instances of classism to be further supported, as procedures are then put in place to hold those who discriminate against these students to account.

Another important factor is raising awareness of classism amongst the staff population, through training and re-education. 

In most instances, students reported that they had experienced elitist attitudes from staff members.

However, it cannot be denied that classism also exists among students. 

Many students reported an elitist environment at halls of residence such as Pollock, and suggested making such accommodation less expensive and more accessible to more disadvantaged students.

The University of Edinburgh undoubtedly does a lot to support disadvantaged students, such as through the Widening Participation bursary. 

However, the recent decision made by the university to essentially halve the amount students receive on this bursary must not be ignored.

When considering the student demographic, and various experiences of classism given by both staff and students, it is surprising that the University of Edinburgh has yet to acknowledge that classism is both a form of discrimination and a prevalent issue at the university.

If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed, The 93% Club and Tackling Elitism offer many resources for students who have experienced classism at the University of Edinburgh.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

By Lucy Jackson

Deputy Editor-in-Chief.