By Claudia Jacob
The 93% Club is a UK-wide charity that provides a national social mobility network, dedicated to levelling the playing field for students who were educated at state schools who account for 93% of the population, but face exceptional inequality when it comes to obtaining opportunities at university and in the workplace. This in turn gives employers the opportunity to reach state school students in a way that they have previously been unable to do.
The Club boasts an impressive list of sponsors, including Bright Network, Teach First and Accenture, and now has a staggering 32 clubs at various UK universities, after it was founded at the University of Bristol just five years ago. The Club also recently won Bright Network’s ‘Society of the Year’ award for ‘Impact on Campus’, a tremendous accolade for a network that was established so recently. Interview Editor, Claudia Jacob, speaks to the executive committee about the ways that the pandemic has exacerbated student class divides, their aims for 2021, and how the club is working to make Durham University a more inclusive space.
Palatinate recently discovered that the number of students admitted to Durham from independent fee-paying schools has risen for the third successive year to 37.8%, meaning that 61.6% of students were admitted from state-funded schools in 2020-21, a fall from 63.4% in 2019-20 and 65.7% in 2018-19. It’s clear that Durham’s 93% Club has its work cut out for them.
Given that Durham University has a particularly high percentage of independently educated students (a higher percentage than Exeter, Edinburgh and UCL), Vice President, Cara Thompson, highlights the need to create a safe space for students “struggling with imposter syndrome”. The team achieves this by holding regular socials, sending out a weekly newsletter, organising networking events to boost skill sets and, more recently, introducing college representatives to target larger groups of students, and deconstruct some of the prevalent exclusive cultures at Durham. Corporate Liaison Officer, Cara Hart, explains that they ultimately aim to “place students on a level playing field” with their independently educated peers, by running events to build confidence and equip students with the necessary skills for their futures.
Secretary, Caitlin Evans, emphasises just how essential this community has become since the start of the pandemic, adding: “now more than ever, it is so important to feel like a community even though we’re not all in the same place”. In light of Epiphany Term being conducted completely online, President, Georgia Carter, stresses how frustrating the assumption is that everyone can easily adapt to studying at home “when this is not the case for many students”. She adds that as well as disruptive households, lack of adequate studying conditions and internet connection potentially posing problems, “being a first-generation university student, there is often a barrier where family members don’t really understand the commitment to work that is required of you, as they haven’t had the same experience”.
A Freedom of Information request from Palatinate last year revealed that just under 20% of undergraduate students at the University are confirmed first-generation students. This is significantly below the estimate UK average, which suggests as many as half of all UK university students could be in this position.
Treasurer, Rhys Cooper, emphasises how these inequalities are equally applicable to A Level students, adding that “currently, in the pandemic, A Level students from underprivileged backgrounds don’t have the funds to access online resources and private tuition is not an option”. Georgia says that as a club, they were outraged by the A Levels algorithm scandal in August 2020: “It was so important for us to speak up about this as a society, because as individuals we really resonated with the students who had been disadvantaged, as this could have been any one of us”. Rhys is “proud to fulfil the role of Treasurer, where [his] financial skills help the society to fully achieve its aims, coming from the most underfunded state school in Northumberland”. For Education Outreach Officer, Brooke Taylor, it’s the club’s “ability to reassure state school students that they deserve their place at such a highly ranked university”, that makes her passionate about the 93% Club’s values. Caitlin wanted to be part of the club because she wanted “to be part of a space which caters to the voices of those from state school backgrounds in higher education, who are largely underrepresented”.
Georgia stresses that due to the discrepancy between state school and independently educated students at Durham, the club has a more “support-and community-based approach, rather than just focusing on careers and skills”. She stresses how “alienating” it can be to arrive at Durham and feel as if you don’t fit in, something which they’re hoping will be alleviated somewhat due to the support network they’ve been implementing through their network of college representatives. Caitlin emphasises that “we want to reduce the divide between privately and state educated students, so that everyone feels accepted and deserving of their place in Durham”.
The team wants to emphasise that its community is wholly inclusive, so long as everyone involved supports their aims as a club. Georgia explains that “our society is not about segregating students but about working together. Some of our reps have had a mixed or solely private education, but by getting involved they help promote social mobility and show that they want to create a more inclusive community”. For her, the most tangible effect they’ve had “is creating an inclusive community within our university. We have made a supportive environment for state educated students and this is something we’re extremely proud of. We’re also being more widely recognised as a group by the University, meaning we are able to support and offer our insight in order to help make change happen”.
The 93% Club as a whole has ambitious plans for 2021, including an Employability Week, a 93% Club podcast and a national bursary scheme. The Durham club is also in the process of setting up a mentoring scheme, pairing students with professionals in an industry in which they’re interested. They’ve also been given the opportunity to discuss how to make events within the careers department more accessible as well as having discussions with the academic departments about the challenges facing stateschool educated students and the ways they can help to improve their experience.
Because ultimately, as a Durham student, it’s each and every student’s job to ensure that our community is as inclusive as possible, regardless of individual privilege.
Illustration: Anna Pycock