Whatever happened to the Young Ones?


May 7, 2013 by Sian Rowland

My business partner and I often run training at Kingston University. They have a great range of modern, airy classrooms with lovely views, efficient IT equipment and a buzzy learning environment. We usually book the main Penrhyn Road campus but ran a recent training day from the Kingston Hill campus. It was a trip down memory lane for me as this is where I did my undergraduate degree. I liked it there so much I returned to do my Masters degree but haven’t been back for at least ten years. Much has changed but some has stayed the same. We were in a brand new building standing where there used to be crumbling halls of residence but the canteen where I hung out on the rare occasions I wasn’t in the student bar was very familiar.

It was here in the canteen that I noticed the biggest change of all. Not the cleanliness, fresh paint and wide range of foods on offer- although that was new too- but the students themselves. The canteen was heaving but every single student was clean-cut, fresh-faced, neat and tidy. There were no punks, goths, hippies, grebos or mods. There were no charity shop jackets bristling with protest badges, no band t shirts and no pink or purple hair. Wrists with dainty chains and necks with fashionable necklaces replaced arms full of cheap bangles, frayed friendship bracelets and leather thongs. No one stomped around in DMs and there were no artfully ripped jeans or black tights with holes. None of the students looked like they’d spent all night partying and experimenting with unsavoury substances, cramming all night or working evening jobs to make ends meet.

In fact everyone looked like they’d stepped out of a Benetton advert.

I mentioned this observation to my colleagues and teachers. One suggested that this was to do with the nature of the courses at Kingston Hill- teaching, business and law amongst others. It was the same when I was there though. When I was on teaching practice I dragged the only skirt I possessed out of the back of the cupboard, ironed it and became a teacher. The rest of time I mooched around in charity shop finds and friends’ cast-offs like everyone else. Someone else suggested that it costs so much to be a student now that only the better off go to university. Perhaps, but none of us had much money, hence the make do and mend fashion and weekend jobs.

I think another colleague nailed it when he said that university is not so much a stepping stone on life’s journey but is now an integral part of a career path that starts at school with study and only the sorts of activities that look good on a CV followed by a gap yah delivering baby turtles or saving rainforests.  I wonder if these perfect-looking students will succeed in securing their ideal careers in a competitive jobs market and be happy, well-rounded people  or whether the freedom we had to be ourselves for a few years made for a more all-round education.

What are your experiences and what do you think?

There aren’t many photos of me as a student but here’s one I managed to find. I’m dressed up posh for this one. I’m wearing my flatmate’s t shirt and charity shop waistcoat. Smirk and dodgy fringe- model’s own.


6 thoughts on “Whatever happened to the Young Ones?

  1. scribedoll says:

    I went to Durham, so my gown covered a multitude of fashion sins. Very interesting observations about students “nowadays”.

  2. Interesting observations. I noticed the same when I went to the University of Hertfordshire for an event. I think there are two factors.
    The first is as your colleague described – Uni is a step on the career path. I had two years of being a step parent and my major observation on that time is that kids are becoming mini adults at a very young age, are taxied around from one structured activity to another and spend far less time than I did, just hanging out and being a kid, developing distinct interests and identities. In London, having a hobby, sport or being in the cubs is seen not as something to enjoy in its own right but something to tout when it comes to applying to secondary schools.
    By the time, they get to Uni, they’ve been on a career treadmill for years. They then have to get at least a 2(i) or they’re a failure. But a good degree isn’t enough so they need to be a ‘model student ‘ too to get a good reference, hence the Benetton shirts.
    The second is that Universities are measured on all sorts of things these days including academic achievement and drop out rates so I think they’d be less inclined to take risks on punks with safety pins in their noses (if they still existed!) lest they not get a First or drop out to be in a band.

    p.s. I went to Durham too.
    p.p.s. Loving that flick hair.

    • Sian Rowland says:

      The more I think about the more I think this must be right- the pressure to be model students from school age upwards. I think also social media can act like big brother and come back to haunt you later on in life as Paris brown found out. Poor students. Good point about drop out rates too. I seem to remember there were quite a few drop-outs in my year. Thanks for your comments and I’m impressed I know people who went to Durham Uni!

  3. Simon O'Brien says:

    I went to university because I liked the subjects and wanted to know more. My degrees have not been of the slightest help in what I call my career.

    They are however very good at allowing me to bore the literal pants of anyone I choose. A blunt weapon perhaps but an effective one.

    In my days we all wore thongs and teeshirts, me excepted since the damn things irritated the spaces between my toes – as far as I was aware I was the only person on the campus to suffer from this complaint.

    I have never quite understood the idea of studying something simply to get a job, I can’t read a word unless the subject interests me and the idea of spending three years maybe more applying oneself to something one does not enjoy seems grotesque.

    I think it might explain however why so many people hate, or least dislike, the way their working life pans out.

    • Sian Rowland says:

      At first I had a picture in my head of lots of students wearing t shirts and saucy knickers to uni then I realised you mean thongs as in flip-flops. Phew! There seems to have been a real shift away from education for life towards education for a job. The worrying thing is that as we all know, that job could be gone in an instant and perhaps it’s more important to have that range of skills that allow us to adapt to new situations. Thanks for your comment.

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