Reunited: 'The kudos of an LSE degree lingers'

February 27, 2004

Judge Jules, aka Julius O'Riordan, studied law at the LSE in the 1980s before becoming a Radio One DJ.

During my tenure in the late 1980s, the most notable difference between life at the London School of Economics and other universities was the disproportionally large number of mature and foreign students. I knew the LSE was different, having mates at other UK universities. Inevitably, the lack of 18 to 20-year-old British undergraduates took its toll on LSE's social life. Foreign students paid nearly five times the fees of their UK counterparts, and certainly weren't there for the ride. Mature students had gone through life-changing decisions before opting for a return to academia, and therefore weren't out boozing every night. LSE's social facilities, including bars, entertainments events and students' union buildings, felt bland and largely bereft of investment. It was this backdrop that encouraged me to create my own social life, sending me out onto the streets of London to forge a DJ career in the shape of the numerous clubs and illegal parties I promoted in the late 1980s.

I enjoyed the LSE and did participate in its social life, running a pirate radio station which made me the custodian of a very amateur-looking transmitting device. I ran the "disco" entertainment, enabling me to blag my way onto the promotional mailing list of record companies. However, I felt little urge to return as an alumnus and didn't visit Houghton Street for nearly 15 years. Perhaps I am lacking in sentimentality - I've never been back to the schools I've attended either.

I was, however, invited back to the LSE recently in a semi-professional capacity - to open their new hi-tech student radio station. As a guest of the school's governors I wasn't in a position to gauge whether the attitude of its students had changed - in my student days I certainly wouldn't have opened up to someone invited by the powers that be. On face value those I met were more fashionable and less identifiable as belonging to the obvious youth movement tribes of the 1980s. The 2003 radio facility made my student union pirate station seem from another age. The "Three Tuns", the social epicentre of my student union life, was no longer a grotty hole with fag-burned plastic-coated bar furniture and a perennial smell of stale ale.

I walked into a clean modern bar with snacks and cosmopolitan beverages.

If things had changed in the student union, the metamorphosis within the original outer shell of the LSE's buildings was nothing short of an architectural marvel. The cynic within me attributed the massive investment to inter-university competition for the same wealthy foreign students who would otherwise choose an Ivy League university. Whatever the reason, the dank institutional corridors were replaced by a bright modernity the building's window space didn't by rights allow. And that was before I'd entered the Sir Norman Foster-designed library. Open plan and surrounded by sweeping spiral staircases, it houses one of the greatest collections of social-science books in the world. I never felt a sense of pride in the LSE, but you couldn't help detecting that sentiment all around.

Although it hasn't proved especially useful for my DJ career, the kudos of an LSE degree lingers. The institution has changed beyond all recognition.

Once my lectures and seminars were over I couldn't wait to leave the place - these days I'd imagine the reverse is true. There's no point viewing its grotty corridors of the late 1980s with rose-tinted spectacles. I've seen the future... I hope they can afford it.

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