Credit: University of Glasgow

Are students divided at the University of Glasgow?

By Tom Gilbert

 Is there a big split between Scottish and English students at Glasgow, and what does this mean for the ability to make friends with students from other parts of the UK?

These last few weeks of UK politics have been especially characterised by division. With the unprecedented blocking of a piece of Scottish legislation by Westminster, the Supreme Court ruling in favour of upholding the controversial and deeply problematic Northern Ireland Protocol, and the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) 2023 State of the North Report naming the UK as “the most regionally unbalanced large, advanced economy.” 

This is, of course, no new phenomenon. The UK is formed of culturally distinct regions, each with their own unique economic history, character and sense of identity. While the post-Brexit, austerity-ridden hellscape of contemporary British politics has brought these divisions to the fore, they have always been there; British politics has always been shadowed by the tumultuous history between England and its neighbours.

But are these divisions reflected in student life at Glasgow University? How might the North/South divide impact interpersonal relationships at university?

It appears Glasgow University students are undecided. In a recent survey of students at the university from a range of different backgrounds across the UK, 46.9% said they had noticed an English/Scottish/Irish/Welsh divide at university, 53.1% said they hadn’t. Notably, 29.7% of students surveyed said that the majority of their friendship group was made up of people from the same part of the UK as them and 21.9% said they believed there was a sense of hierarchy between students from different countries within the UK.

When asked if they had any examples of regional divisions on campus most students tended to link region with wealth. One student mentioned avoiding “English students from privileged backgrounds.” Another described an encounter with a friend from a wealthy region in the UK not noticing the rising energy costs and not relating to another friend who had to get a part-time job to keep up with their bills.

It is perhaps not surprising that wealth and region are so closely tied in students’ experiences at Glasgow University. There is an engrained wealth inequality in the University application process from the start. With the lack of university fees required from Scottish students, the pool of non-Scottish applicants are generally from a wealthier base line that can afford to pay the excessive sums required. Last year The Guardian reported a push by Scottish universities to attract non-Scottish students and limiting the number of Scottish students able to enrol.

One student described a sense of resentment towards English students for “creating a scarcity of places for Scottish students”, citing that “it is very common for English students to be let in with worse secondary school grades than Scottish students”.

Many students highlighted a regional divide in terms of North/South as opposed to divisions between the different UK countries. Notably, a few students described a sense of elitism and exclusion from groups of students from London as well as other large cities.

One student felt that “South England/Londoners tend to stick together and not mix as much as others”, another described how they don’t think “there’s a hierarchy in terms of country but definitely capital cities”. One aptly wrote “Scottish people don’t like people from London”.

I feel there are a few things at play here. First and foremost, the London bubble is very much real. London can sometimes feel like its own ecosystem separate and cut off from the rest of the UK. It is perhaps not surprising that many students who grew up there might not have the same sensitivities to the North/South divide and wider UK politics as some other students. However, that’s not to excuse ignorance. Part of the experience of going to study so far from home is being receptive to learning about the place you are living in.

On the flip side, I feel there can sometimes be a conflation between Westminster and London. While resentment towards the Westminster institution is completely understandable, and indeed shared, it can appear like this resentment leaks over to students from Southern England.

The current political climate coupled with a student body as large as Glasgow’s makes regional divides perhaps somewhat inevitable. However, it is these very divisions which make the University an interesting and rich place to study. Without experiencing them first hand at university, it would be difficult to gain a full and well-rounded political picture of the UK; maybe we would benefit from more politicians coming from institutions like Glasgow – outside the Oxbridge club.


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