• Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

The state school experience at the University of Edinburgh

ByAbigail King

Nov 10, 2023
The empty quad of Old College, Edinburgh's school of Law, during the daytime.

It’s surprising how a question as small as “Where did you go to school?” can carry such weight.

More accurately, what tends to be asked is “What school did you go to?” because it’s assumed that you went to a “known” school – you know, probably a boarding school with an international reputation and fabulous academic programme.

Edinburgh has a class problem. Of course it does. It’s a Scottish university overrun by rich international students and upper-middle-class Londoners who are surrounded by people like them, and are shocked to discover people exist outside of that bubble.

But I don’t think the main issue is social, or even academic.

My flatmate, state-educated and studying Scots law, was surprised at the idea of other state school students feeling at a disadvantage. The majority of her course mates are from state schools in Scotland, and she feels on an equal footing.

Similarly, my course mates studying PPE are from a variety of different backgrounds, countries and classes. I’ve only felt included by my immediate peers, including those who have gone to “well-known” public schools (including the four letter one, beginning with E).

But when we talk about our futures, a line is very suddenly, very distinctly drawn between those who did and those who didn’t pay for an education. That’s where the issue lies.

For all the talk of a glass ceiling over the heads of working-class kids, there’s a glass floor for those who have come from more privilege. Private schools teach the soft skills that state school students struggle to have. Confidence, presentation, connections. The ability to walk into a room and not apologise for being there. It creates a divide that can’t be fixed by now attending the same academic institution, it runs far too deep. From a state school perspective, private school students have had no small number of opportunities that we haven’t. We might come out with the same degree classification, but what’s that to connections that can provide you with internships?

Similarly, a Scottish friend has complained that when the post-4th year migration to London begins, there will be those who can live at home and save on rent and those that will have to fork out a small fortune each month for a wheelie bin sized flat, an hour’s commute and a king’s ransom in transport fares from anywhere.

As well as the differences between future outlooks, there’s another thing that sticks out about the class divide at Edinburgh. Almost 80% of respondents to The Student’s survey said they felt they had imposter syndrome. That made me angry. State school kids have had to work harder to realise dreams that are the birth right of many more privileged than them. If you’ve worked hard and got into uni, that’s it. Wherever you’ve come from – for richer, for poorer, for state or for private – you’ve got here. And you should be welcomed here, regardless of class.

Old College, University of Edinburgh” by Ipoh kia is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

By Abigail King

Opinion Editor