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The University of Edinburgh is no better than Durham when it comes to southern elitism

A report from a Durham University student has exposed a “toxic culture” of elitism against those from the north-east region of England, typically prevalent among more privileged students from the south of England.

North-east students, despite being local to Durham University, had their accents described as “feral”, as well as being discriminated against for their class and background. The phrase “rolling in the muck” was coined to refer to intentionally attempting to sleep with a student from a less privileged background as a joke. The report also revealed one student’s experience of being told by a southern-English student that they had a “poverty fetish” towards them, before stubbing out a cigarette on the back of their hand. When we take into consideration that only 7.8% of Durham’s graduates in the last five years are from the north-east of England, these allegations are not far-fetched at all.

Edinburgh cannot call itself innocent to this culture of class bigotry and elitism. Although located in Scotland, the University primarily constitutes English students, and it is evident that the same form of southern-English elitism seen at Durham occurs at Edinburgh too. Edinburgh’s ’93 percent club’ reported that despite state-educated students making up 93% of the UK student population, they constitute only 65% of students at Edinburgh. Given that there are 28 private schools in the whole of the north-east region, yet there are more than 130 in Greater London alone, it is not mistaken to suggest that the majority of students at Edinburgh – particularly those who are privately-educated – are from the south of England.

There is a clear social divide at the University between the north and south of England, a hierarchy of sorts. It is not uncommon to be overlooked in tutorials for having an ‘incomprehensible’ accent, as though what is said will inherently be less intelligent than someone who speaks ‘proper’ English. But speaking from personal experience is not enough to judge the extent of Edinburgh’s elitism.

The Student sought to find common experiences among northern-English students, and so reached out to those from that background, hoping to discover how widespread the existence of elitism and class bigotry is at Edinburgh. The findings are innumerable and scandalous; whilst they are representative of only a few instances, they reflect on an overwhelmingly negative culture of social disparity at Edinburgh University.

A student shared their experience living in Pollock Halls, notorious for housing mainly southern-English students. Many passive comments regarding their background and accent were made, and a southern-English student even asked them “Do you have lights in Newcastle?”.

A similar prejudice was felt by a different student, when a southern-English student explained to them that they “skipped everything north of Birmingham”.

Another example of class bigotry comes from a student being asked by one of their southern peers if they were working in their part-time hospitality job for pocket money rather than necessity, later offering them money. The same student also revealed how a lecturer stated that if they were to drop out of their degree, they would end up working at Lidl.

These allegations are shockingly expected, and countless other students will have had similar experiences. However, the discussion cannot end here without considering that we are in Scotland, not England. The idea of southern self-imposed superiority is not unique to England; we must listen to the experiences of Scottish students at Edinburgh in the same way we have listened to the experiences of northern-English students at Durham.

This is an issue concerning class and social disparity – excluding Scotland from the discussion is not only elitist, but it is inconceivable and ignorant of Edinburgh’s location. We should instead turn our attention towards the voices of Scottish students, surrounded by a sea of English. Until the University acknowledges classism as a form of discrimination, we cannot move forward.

Image: Billy Wilson via Flickr