Why Are We Here?
A Quest for Student Identity
Photo courtesy of Christos Tsoumplekas
by Gretta Bankes
As the new academic year gets well underway, swathes of freshers are adjusting to their life at almost-Edinburgh University, also known as not-quite-Glasgow. It seems to be a tale as old as this ancient institute of learning that its students would rather be somewhere else. In all my 3 (and a bit) years of studying here, I have come across under 10 people for whom Aberdeen was their unashamed first choice for continuing their education, along with about a dozen who hide their active decision to come here in a shroud of embarrassment. My question is, why?
As someone who has never quite moved on from their Edinburgh rejection letter, I think this university needs to rethink its target market and create an identity outside the ‘we’ll take the dregs of the universities who take the dregs of Oxbridge’ approach. Now that we no longer hold Scottish University of the Year, we need to create a student identity and community which can stand strong in our united pride in being where we want to be for our education: not somewhere that held the back door open for us to quickly slip in.
Even the University’s slogan in recent years, ‘come here, go anywhere’, puts the emphasis on leaving before we have even arrived and results in a strange mix of incredibly driven career-focused students and those who have little to no interest in post-uni life. If our institution is suffering from such low self-esteem that we have to promise a swift departure in order to persuade prospective students to even consider joining our ranks as an option, we need to admit that we need help with our image.
As students, we’re repeatedly told how much Aberdeen University has to offer: look at our library, look at our battle of whichever insignificant place in the league tables, look at the sports village and Hillhead, look at our history! The fact is that these surface-level assets will never be enough to put Aberdeen on the table alongside the Edinburghs and Glasgows, rather than its snug position nestled nicely below them, until we build a sense of student community. It should be easy because we’re such a small student body; it should be interesting because we’re so diverse. But in reality, there’s nothing so intimate as a large party (to quote Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby), and small and diverse is just parlour talk for cliquey.
I’m not denying that it is hard to create a sense of student unity and I am not ignoring the good reasons there are for continuing difficulty in achieving it in the past. There are several factors, in my view, that account for our lack of student culture: firstly, our widespread bitterness at resorting to plan B by coming here, as I have already extensively explored. Secondly, the fact that many of us have to juggle jobs alongside our degrees removes us, for large chunks of the week, from being actively involved in student life. Thirdly, and finally for this article, our lack of places to socialise. I know that over the last year there were articles and articles mourning the loss of various old university buildings, and still others criticising the soullessness of The Hub – technically renamed as the Student Union Building, but will forever be known as the Hub – and which is clinical enough to feel as unnatural as drinking in a school, so I won’t dwell on these issues, only raise them.
So, my answer to my earlier question is that our incohesive and frayed student body is largely part of the reason for Aberdeen University’s underwhelming reputation. I am not arrogant enough to offer a solution just yet, but as they say … the first step is identifying the problem and I think I have. If we are to stand proud of ourselves as students of Aberdeen University, then we must feel that we are one ‘we are’s,’ rather than a collection of ‘I could have been’s.’