You’ve probably heard a lot about university: sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and the rest of it. Is it really no work and all play? Representations of higher education have existed in pop culture since, well, a long time, and much of what we’re told about university is either conflicting or just plain impossible. Here to help you out, let’s look at the best portrayals of uni life on screen, singling out what they get right and what they get wrong.
Fresh Meat (2011 – 2016)
The insanely witty show captures a lot of what it’s like to be a student: people from all different backgrounds get grouped together and form a camaraderie. Some are posh and buy extra virgin olive oil, whilst others rely entirely on their student loan. Some turn up to uni with an armada of notches on their bedpost, whilst others turn up unaware of what that euphemism even means. What matters is that you’re all in the same place now. Fresh Meat does, however, take liberties in exaggerating the university experience. There is sex and there are drugs, but all things in moderation. University isn’t exactly the live-free-die-young cesspool of hedonism that Fresh Meat thinks it is (and Lafrowda wishes it is). You’re there to get a degree, afterall. Fresh Meat is a show written by people who left uni 20 years ago, and it shows (mainly because everyone in Fresh Meat dresses like they’re in the 90s).
Starter for 10 (2006)
Whilst Fresh Meat looks at where uni students are different from each other, Starter for 10 looks at where they’re the same. If you’re at the same university as someone, you probably got similar A-level (or equivalent) results and have similar academic interests. And through societies or your course, it’s easy to find like-minded people. Unlike Fresh Meat, this film does try to balance balance the academic side with the party side. “I need to be in a place where people have a passion for knowledge” James McAvoy declares in voiceover, and much is done to show that uni is, ultimately, about academia. It is a film where even the archetypal blonde is clever enough to appear on University Challenge. Most of all, Starter for 10 captures that when going to uni, you are entering a new world. There are new friends and relationships, new opportunities, and many begin to adopt a new outlook on the world.
Educating Rita (1983)
Starter for 10 flirts with the idea that there might be a cultural barrier between those who seek further education and those who don’t in a Britain so obsessed with class, but Educating Rita forces you to to gaze upon it. Like Starter for 10, Educating Rita is set in the 1980s and is largely a period piece about the place of intellectualism in Thatcherite Britain. Except, this film is made at the time and hence the script does not connect its themes with the modern era. Educating Rita isn’t as much about university life (it’s leading Rita is a mature student studying through the Open University), but it finds its place on this list because anyone who has ever said that they’re a student and been met with a scoff or a “why don’t you find a real job” will be able to identify with it.
The Riot Club (2014)
I don’t know; I’ve not been to Holland Hall.