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Life as a Working-Class King’s Student – Roar Speaks to the 93% Club

Image courtesy of Emma Carmichael

Roar spoke with two representatives from the KCL 93% club and a history student to discuss what life is like as a working-class student at King’s.

They’re in your classes. They’re in your hallways. They may even have been the ones to unintentionally steal your drink at Pret. The working-class have never been more present at King’s, or at any prestigious university than they are now – with King’s College London (KCL) ranking #4 for social mobility, the best amongst the Russell Group.

The mid-semester blues have hit us all, but the less privileged students at King’s seem to be suffering the most. While the majority of those struggling with deadlines can work through the weekends or into the evenings, students like Harry, Treasurer for the 93% Club and a second-year Law student, don’t have that luxury. Born and raised in Northern Ireland, he receives less money to study in London than a student from England to study outside of London. Currently living on £6,000 a year, he says that that it was particularly difficult to juggle study and work during the exam period. “I’d literally finish an exam and go straight to work after”, he says, and shared that he frequently suffers from burnout as a result.

Similarly, Maddie, a second-year History student, states that previously, she “worked every day I wasn’t at uni, three days a week” and that this led to her falling behind in her studies. “There were weeks when I just didn’t do any of the reading” she says, simply because she was both exhausted and didn’t have the time. 

Money is a primary problem for working-class students. For the 93% club, one of their main issues is tackling the King’s bursary. Divleen, Vice President of the society and also a second year studying Law, described how behind the times KCL is in this regard. Her twin, who studies the same subject at a different London university, is entitled to a maximum of £4,000 per year, while the most she can receive at King’s is £1,600 (See Roar article: ‘KCL Bursary For Most Underprivileged Students Lowest Amongst Top London Unis‘). While students of this plight may be recommended to be thankful for what they have, this amount is significantly small, and easily spent in the city. Harry describes King’s as “a rich person’s club” and suggests that “you can talk about diversity all you want and have initiatives to attract people, but unless they can physically afford to be there, then it means nothing”. 

A less prominent, but no less significant, problem for these students is the feelings of comparison amongst their peers. Maddie, who spoke a lot about elitism at King’s said, “it is very normalised to be very rich and very privileged and to have a leg up into higher education and because of that most people who didn’t have that feel outnumbered and out of place”. For her, she has had peers assume she would be able to stop working for the time up until exams, and suggesting that university should come first. She says “the implication for me was that I wasn’t taking it seriously, when the reality is, I absolutely am, I just can’t afford to go to uni in Central London, I just don’t have that kind of money”. Asking the KCL 93% Club about their own experiences dealing with their peers, Harry said that “we have two completely different conceptions of money” and that there have been instances where, at lavish events, for example, he has been conscious of a difference between himself and his peers; “there seems to be a collective consciousness of experience and you just can’t relate”.

With all of this in mind, it is abundantly clear that there is a student body within KCL’s prestigious walls that needs both support and funding to see their studies through to graduation day. But there is still cause for hope. Maddie said, “there’s quite a nice sense of community and camaraderie” amongst working-class students. She highlights, “I’m one more working-class person at a Russell group uni, and the more of us that go through and do it the more people are going to look at it and be like actually anyone can”. Despite the challenges that people of a lower socio-economic background face at prestigious universities, there is a desire to push through. 

While the consensus is that King’s is not a natural home for working-class students, that doesn’t mean it can’t be made into one. Increasing the King’s bursary would genuinely and effectively help those most in need of it, and simple awareness of class differences within the student community may soothe those feelings of otherness that less privileged students experience. There’s a group suffering in silence at King’s – it’s time for us to put our money where our mouth is and do something about it. 

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