From party twit to parity wit

February 11, 2005

Ellie Levenson became a convert to inclusivity after realising that the snob lecturing students was her

When I arrived at my redbrick university in the Nineties, I felt perfectly justified in believing that such institutions should be reserved for an elite, albeit a meritocratic one.

After all, I hadn't gone to a private school, had extra tuition or come from a high-achieving peer group.

A look at the website Friends Reunited shows that few of my schoolmates went on to higher education.

I attended an East London comprehensive followed by an Essex college. My educational success, I suspect, was largely due to encouraging parents and the occasional good teacher.

Having made it that far through hard work, I thought there was no reason for anyone who deserved to get to university not to do so. And, furthermore, it was clear to me that if you didn't study an academic subject at one of the top institutions, then you shouldn't bother at all.

But I now think differently. Just a few weeks into my new job teaching journalism at Goldsmiths College, University of London, I had one of those party moments. You know, when someone has had too much to drink, thinks too much of themselves, spouts forth bullshit on all kinds of subjects and is generally a tosser. And then you sober up just enough to realise that it is you.

Well, in my second week, halfway through a class on feature writing, that happened to me.

I suddenly realised that the middle-class twit pontificating about higher education policy, full of Daily Mail -isms and elitist theories, was me. Eeek!

My snobbery shocked me. After all, looking at my students, very bright and eager to learn, I realised that my former view would not have given them the chance to get to this stage.

For although Goldsmiths is a long-established college, my students study media and communications - a subject I would have once pooh-poohed for not being traditional.

In fact, the course provides them with an excellent combination of rigorous academic skills and practical experience that can be applied as soon as they enter the workplace.

How dare I think that it is OK for a small group to want to learn for the sake of learning, yet wish to deny the rest of the population the same opportunity.

We are a wealthy nation and can afford to allow anyone who wants to pursue such a goal the chance to do so. It is immoral not to facilitate this.

This realisation made me question many of my beliefs. For if I now support the Government's aim of giving 50 per cent of young people the chance to go to university, then I have to reassess how I think we should pay for this and hence drop my blanket opposition to tuition fees of any kind.

Learning is, of course, as much about asking the right questions as discovering the answers.

My return to university, this time as a lecturer, has certainly made me reassess what I thought were firmly held opinions.

In just half a term, my students have taught me the importance of allowing everyone to develop their knowledge, further their interests and fulfil their potential.

So with this article I consign my former snob self to history.

And in doing so I have, I hope, lost the persona of party twit. Though as I wax lyrical about my new enthusiasm for the widening of higher education to all my friends, it is possible that I have just swapped that persona for another, that of party bore.

Ellie Levenson teaches journalism at Goldsmiths College, London, and is a freelance journalist.

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