In 2017, the Times Higher Education data revealed Exeter University to be among the top 10 of universities with the lowest percentage of state school students, compared to those from a private school background.
Only 6.5% of children in the UK attend a private school, yet they make up 31.5% of Exeter University students. This data is shocking if we consider the driving force behind these students’ ability to get in to Exeter. They got the grades, undoubtedly. But are children who come from a wealthier background, whose parents can afford to pay for their education, naturally more intelligent and thus more deserving of a place? Of course not.
The fact of the matter is, paying for primary and secondary education essentially buys your child a better chance in life, giving them a major head start against children who may be equally as gifted and talented, yet do not receive the quality of education required to bring out that potential. In our current education system, it is money, not merit, which ultimately determines your future, and this is something epitomised by the make-up of Exeter’s student body.
Coming from a state school myself, I defied the odds in securing a place at Exeter, despite attending a poorly ranked school and thus not receiving the same quality of teaching as many of my new Exeter classmates. In the many drunken arguments that I have had about this topic, I have been told that this is proof that you can work your way into top universities despite your background, and that there is nothing stopping state school students from achieving the same as any privately educated student.
Firstly, is it fair that the average state school student must work harder than the average private school student to achieve the same university place, solely due to their parents’ lower income? It is possible, but that doesn’t mean it is easy or right. Research from University College London recently revealed that in secondary school, privately educated students have on average £15,000 spent on them per head, compared with the £6,200 per state school child. State school students are undeniably equipped with fewer resources and lower quality teaching than the average private school student, meaning that their chances of attaining a place at a top university are largely financially determined.
Secondly, the inequalities faced by state school students do not end when they manage, against all odds, to secure their place at a Russell Group university like Exeter. Of course, students from less privileged backgrounds can receive bursaries and scholarships to ensure they have the tools to make the most of university life. However, this is a plaster stuck over a problem which began years before university, a disadvantage stemming from a student’s very first day of school. Our university offers a multitude of brilliant opportunities, such as running for positions in societies and the Guild, alongside the assistance to seek out work experience.
However, state schools generally do not have the funding to offer the opportunities found in most private schools, such as leadership roles, volunteering, debating societies and educational trips, which provide valuable experience that students can use when applying for positions at university societies and internships. This, once again, puts them at an advantage against their state school classmates, who have the grades that got them into Exeter, but lack the multitude of extra achievements which they, or their school, could not afford.
As we all know, a degree alone is not enough anymore, and employers will be looking for extracurricular activities which set a student apart from the rest. Coming from a state school, you are really not prepared for this, and are more likely to fall behind other students who are already familiar with taking on leadership roles.
Private schools not only equip you with a better chance at university, but a better chance at life, and for state school students, it can often be hard to catch up.
Private schools create and maintain an endless cycle of rich and successful parents producing rich and successful children, a stream of privilege which can be incredibly difficult to break into if you aren’t lucky enough to be born into a certain background. I strongly believe it is fairer for every child to start with the same quality of education, allowing for those who are truly the most intelligent to shine and achieve highly, rather than those whose parents can afford it. Life in our capitalist climate is competitive; we should base the competition on talent and ability, rather than luck and money.