Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Making a Difference: Columnists

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Making a Difference: Columnists

Article excerpt

The sense of dread I'm feeling can mean only one thing, it's ball season at university.

As a student involved in widening access, it's a time of year I approach with trepidation. For every hour we spend making our universities more inviting, for every attempt we make to raise pupils' aspirations, there is a tweed-clad cretin waiting to fart on our efforts.

At my university, this year's prize twat award is a hotly contested affair. The well-heeled buffoon who capped off a night of drink-driving by decapitating a pigeon with his bare hands had looked to be home and dry. Yet in a dramatic turn of events, his effort has been trumped by a late contender. Last week, our own Bullingdon-esque clique unveiled a VIP ticket to their May Ball. Now, any student looking to make an impression can arrive in style by way of (I kid you not) a helicopter. Somewhere, Sir Peter Lampl is silently weeping.

The problem is that although on campus these groups are taken about as seriously as David Cameron's partiality for pasties, in the eyes of our national media stories like this are presented as the ultimate distillation of our student experience.

The upshot? Any prospective student is as likely to read about pigeon-gate or the decadence of park 'n' ride helicopters as about our scholarships and summer schools. Unsurprisingly, this is generally off-putting to anyone who is not a card-carrying twerp him- or herself.

And once a particular perception gains traction in the news, anything that contradicts it tends to be overlooked. Cantankerous Old Carthusians are in - everything else is out. It's a deficit of A03 "alternative interpretations" that would make any English teacher squirm. It takes a truly momentous event to escape this sort of typecasting. Short of commissioning a huge commemorative sausage roll for its 600th anniversary, it's hard to know how our university can break the mould. …

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