Still a rich man's world

June 7, 2012

I am studying for a master's degree at Durham University and am part of University College. Having enjoyed my undergraduate studies at the University of Liverpool, I relished the challenge of a new city and a new institution. I decided to study at Durham because of its excellent academic reputation and enviable environment. I never considered that my modest middle-class background would clash with the elitist nature of the institution.

So imagine my surprise when I received an email a few weeks ago inviting me to apply to attend University College's June Ball: tickets cost a mere £120. Further to the extortionate price, the ball requires that ladies wear full-length gowns and gentlemen white tie (the email reads: "black tie is not acceptable"). So much for the age of austerity.

THE readers might think that if students are unhappy with the price, they simply should not attend. However, the manner in which the "opportunity" is presented makes this problematic. The ball has been dubbed the "premiere [sic] event of the social calendar" and with no affordable alternative I feel uncomfortable about the position of those (like me) who cannot afford to go. The student maintenance loan barely covers accommodation, so finding £120 for the ticket while paying for the appropriate dress is an impossibility for those of us who do not have significant financial support.

The point here is that while "top" universities claim that elitism is a thing of the past and that students are now assessed on academic achievement rather than social class, events organised by Durham do not reflect this ethic. Instead, they are such that those students who do not enjoy the luxury of a generous benefactor are subject to social exclusion.

Hollie Swann, Durham University

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