St Andrews is an elite university. It is the home to some of the brightest minds worldwide, drawing from only the brightest selections of students. However, St Andrews is also elitist. We are currently the second worst university in the UK for equality, meaning that the only institution accepting fewer students from deprived backgrounds is Cambridge; we’re the worst in Scotland.
Our reputation in the community of universities in the UK is that all we do is drink champagne and go to expensive balls. Many of us enjoy this reputation, because its an important part of our university life. We do go to balls a lot more than most students but its only because its tradition, and tradition defines our public image. Getting covered in foam on Raisin Monday, running into the sea at dawn on May Dip, shelling out £80 for a ball ticket, it’s all part of the fun isn’t it?
It’s very easy to blame the lack of economic diversity among the student population on the admissions staff, because they are the ones who decide who gets to come here. However, I have to question whether it isn’t because of us, the students, perpetuating the reputation through our “traditions”.
Even before I came here I was aware of St Andrews’ reputation for being posh. We all know it as the university where our future king met his queen, and my friends used to joke that I too would emerge married to a royal. Given its reputation, I wonder how many students from deprived backgrounds actually apply to St Andrews. With its reputation as a university for rich kids, you cant blame people for not applying because they don’t think they’ll fit in. And unfortunately they might be right; so much of the St Andrews experience is centred around money that anyone who comes from a less privileged background may indeed end up feeling like they’re missing out on something.
This is why I think its down to the students to change this, and make our community more welcoming to people from all backgrounds. Hold balls, but make them accessible to as many people as possible. £50 for the cheapest May Ball ticket is going to exclude too many people who can’t afford to blow an entire weeks budget on one night out.
Wear your Barbour, but don’t let it become the symbol of our uni. Spend your money how you wish, but don’t let your spending habits exclude those who can’t.