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TRCH Hairspray

University Challenge

1 October 07 words: Al Needham
illustrations: Si Mitchell

Almost overnight and without asking to be, students have become the moneyed class in Nottingham...

So, it’s October again, and the annual orgy of relentless overpricing, ear-splitting noise and flashing lights is upon us again. Like every other year, we’ll be invited to gape at the parade of freaks, crane our necks at new and dazzling hunks of steel and glass, and come away from the experience feeling that, underneath the ballyhoo and hype, we’re feeling a little bit nauseated and considerably ripped off. Yes, it’s Fresher’s Week, and a new batch of students have arrived. And whether you like it or not, they’re here to stay.

First things first; if you’re looking for a spot of Paul Calf-like moaning about students, you’re not going to find it here. Practically everyone at LeftLion was a student at some point, and we’re all glad we did it. Some of our favourite people in Notts are former students at Trent and Nottingham. Furthermore, it’s a stone-cold unarguable fact that the student population has made Nottingham a far better place to live. Before they arrived in town in serious numbers, the Rescue Rooms was a wet t-shirt dive called New York New York, the Bodega was a meat market called Cairos, and if you wanted a night out that didn’t involve listening to chart rubbish or having your head stoved in by meatheads in chinos, it was Rock City or the Garage or nothing. And nobody wants to go back to that.

But here’s the thing; once upon a time, and not so long ago, Nottingham appeared to have the best student/local balance in the country. When I was at Uni in Hounslow, there was one pub in the area that you could go to without running the risk of getting chinned. At the same time, my mate was at Luton, where the students seemed to have the whole town at their disposal, and it showed – it was a conglomeration of fast-food dives, horrible bars, and charity shops In Nottingham, the students dragged the city out of its Sharonistic torpor, while the locals kept their excesses in check.

That’s not the case any more. Nowadays, I fear that if Nottingham bends over a little further and pulls its arse cheeks any wider for the student population, it’s going to turn itself inside-out. And if the brakes aren’t put on the student juggernaut soon, everyone is going to lose out. Think I’m talking bollocks? Read on…

First thing you need to realise is that, thanks to the slow death of the student grant (thanks Maggie, please die soon) and the introduction of student fees (cheers Tony, you simpering twat), the modern-day student experience is a million miles away from what it was 15, 10 or even five years ago. If you think that student life these days involves sitting in a shared house in the scabby part of town around a Breville sandwich toaster, eking enough cash from the back of the sofa to afford a night of japery (usually ending with a cone on your head), you’re wrong. To be a student these days is to look down the barrel of five-figure debt - recent surveys peg the average amount at somewhere between £12,000 and £17,000, while one predicts that this year’s crop of freshers will be a bowel-watering 21 grand in the hole by the time they get to look like bell-ends in their capes and mortar boards in 2010. Not the kind of situation that you’d like to be in when you’re 21 and you’re still looking for your first proper job.

However, there’s an upside to being a student these days, if you want to call it that; instant access to more disposable credit than you and I will ever see in our lives. The natural inclination would be to say “Right, then - if I’m going to be up to the eyeballs in debt, I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb” (Then you’d probably wonder what ‘being hung for a sheep as a lamb’ actually means, because you’re young. But I digress). The upshot of this is that, almost overnight and without particularly asking to be, students have become the moneyed class in Nottingham. Alright, it might not exactly be their money, but they’ve got it to spunk. And spunk it they do.

And you can’t help feeling that the locals are the ones who are having to take this varsity bukkake session full in the face. Bad enough when you’re spinning a pint out on your dinner hour with a packet of crisps in a pub in town while the students on the next table are flinging their credit cards over the bar for £8 salads. Worse when the bar you’ve been drinking in for the past five years charges you four times more to get in because you don’t have an NUS card. Outright patronising when the other bars you go to embark on a marketing blitz on Freshers Week and then moan that local people don’t support them in the summer.

And an absolute piss-taking liberty when every new amenity in town and every major injection of cash in the city seems to be another attempt to turn Nottingham into a big soulless campus, for the benefit of people who pay exactly nuppence in Council Tax and are looking for a bubble and get laid, caned and battered with each other in for three years, like we did when we were students. Want to know why Nottingham is one of the few places in the country where the house prices are going down? The thousands of empty student properties in the suburbs that have been passed over for shiny new ponce-boxes might have something to do with it.

And if you think things are getting bad now, wait and see what the future has in store. The price of a degree isn’t going down anytime soon, and the result of this is that a university education has ceased to be a birthright for those who deserved it and is becoming a privilege for the few who can afford it, regardless of intelligence. Consider the two most important statistics about Nottingham that doesn’t involve gun crime; we have the highest level of student retention in the UK (i.e., more graduates choose to stay here then anywhere else), and we’re one of the most uneducated cities in the country. So if you were one of the big employers in Notts, who would you choose in a job interview – a local kid with a clutch of A-Levels who couldn’t afford to go to Uni, or an overqualified graduate who is looking for somewhere to help pay off their debts for a few years? I know who I’d pick. Unfortunately, I know who they’d pick.

Of course, all this is happening in other cities across the UK. It just seems that no-one is making as much of a balls-up of it as much as Notts. It’s as if the powers-that-be here have decided that Nottingham would be the cultural centre it so desperately wants to be if they could just get rid of those pesky locals, so they’re gleefully pulling the ladder up on us. Yes, we’re bringing new businesses to the city (but you won’t be qualified enough to do anything there but push a mop about or mash the tea). Yes, we’re erecting new buildings in the middle of town (but you’ll never see the inside of them unless we pay you to clean a Social Science student’s shit off the floor of the toilets). Yes, we’re bringing money into the city (but you’ll never see a penny of it), and Nottingham is finally the vibrant and eclectic place it always wanted to be (but you’re not, so work that till and shut up, peasant).

And you don’t have to be a University Challenge contestant to clock where this is going to lead us. You only have to see the looks of resentment on the faces on youths in Lonsdale tops in town as they watch people their own age blow enormous sums of money to realise that the difference between the haves and have-Notts is getting more pronounced by the year, and some kind of backlash will be inevitable at some point. Students are already the number one target for burglaries in the city, and the scare stories about how violent the locals are already driving a wedge between them and us. The upshot is that everybody suffers, particularly if the long-predicted recession kicks in; they’ll end up as cash cows being milked dry in shiny oases dotted across a map of no-go areas, and we’ll be forced to watch our city turn to shit. And nobody on either side of the divide wants that.  



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