From personal experience, I can verify that university culture is rife with various kinds of elitism. Students get snobby about subjects, grades, social backgrounds, university league tables and more. STEM students mock humanities and arts students, Russell group university goers laugh at less prestigious universities and privately educated students look down on those who were educated in state schools.
Of course, these are just generalisations as not all students buy in to this kind of elitism. But, unfortunately, there are many who do, dismissing it as a bit of light hearted banter. But this apparently harmless ‘banter’ is very unnecessary and boring, not to mention discouraging and degrading for those on the receiving end of it. So let’s explore why snobbery is so widespread in universities.
Of course, when someone is putting others down it usually means they are insecure. Therefore, the problem of elitism in universities suggests there is a culture of insecurity, which is perhaps due to the enormous pressure placed on young people. Many feel anxious about getting a job after university and arguably it is this fear which leads students to slate their peers’ degrees, particularly those which they feel are less likely than them to land you a decent job. This inevitably leads to a chain reaction in which students constantly feel that they need to justify their university and subject choice and so do so by putting down others.
Are schools at fault?
However, this insecurity does not suddenly begin from the moment students start university. Some secondary schools and colleges are guilty of pressuring young people to apply for university degrees which aren’t a realistic aim for the individual student. Of course, all schools want their pupils to excel, particularly because it reflects well on the institution, but unrealistic goals are not helpful for young people. This pressure to apply for unachievable university degrees may be causing students not to get in to their first and/or second choice of university, meaning that, when they get in to university, their success is marred and they feel inadequate for not getting in to a ‘better’ university. As a result, university students may feel defensive about their university or degree choice, causing them to attack other people’s chosen degrees or universities before someone can attack theirs.
This culture of insecurity is also a result of anxiety concerning the value of certain degrees. You rarely hear of a film student making fun of a chemistry student’s degree and there is a reason for this. There is most definitely a perceived hierarchy of subjects, which is reinforced by politics, media and, of course, students themselves. There are countless articles circulating which brand certain social or arts subjects and universities as ‘soft’ or even ‘useless’. This has led to a plethora of elitist jokes about how biology isn’t a ‘real science’, that film students do nothing but chat about films all day and so on.
So what can be done to tackle this elitism?
Obviously, elitism in general is a huge issue which you could write a whole dissertation on. But, in terms of this specific example, there are a couple of small things we can do to resist it. If you are a parent and your child is currently thinking about going to university, ensure that you do not put pressure on them to choose a university or degree that is not right for them. Instead encourage them to make their own choices and validate whichever degree programme they go on to choose. And, if you’re a university student, remember that you don’t have to join in with all the snobby jokes that surround you. Concentrate on your own personal reasons for doing your degree and remember that every course is valuable in its own right.