Written by A Guest Blogger
In 1990, I went to University, in Glasgow. We hadn’t been to an open day, I knew nothing about the city, it had just spun the appropriate combination of grades on the academic fruit machine and accepted me. My parents asked almost no questions about it – they were just glad I’d got in somewhere. My Dad drove me the 200 miles from Manchester, I unloaded my stuff, then I shoo-ed him off so I could make friends with the Goth in the weird hat I’d seen in reception.
Now, the place would be crawling with concerned parents, poking round the bathrooms and sniffing for carbon monoxide. Then, the whole thing could have been built on a haunted burial ground and nobody would have mentioned it.
And parental input isn’t the only thing that’s changed. Here some of the most notable differences between students now and students…well, a few years ago. I’m not that old, alright?
Then: My room in halls (Room 101, in fact, truly) had a single bed, a thin, nylon carpet and a bathroom two corridors away that made a Texan prison’s shower block look girlishly luxurious. But compared to my first shared house, it was pure Cribs. When we moved in, the landlord, Mr Ali, had left a grime-streaked bathtub in the kitchen. He didn’t have a van to move it, ‘just put a board over it and use it as an extra seat’ he said, so we did. The lights didn’t work, the security was a flimsy bolt on the front door, and the electrics looked like a game of Mousetrap. The heating was a 3 bar electric fire that travelled with us from room to room.
Now: Student ‘crash pads’ with wide screen TVs are a thing. ‘Luxury halls’ are also common. X boxes, Netflix, central heating and proper carpets are standard. And as for smoke alarms… if we’d had one, ours would have gone off continually due to a heady combination of chain-smoking and burnt toast.
Then: Obviously, we drank too much, but it was limited massively by lack of funds. The main place to drink was the union bar, where Snakebite and Black (honestly, do not ask) was the most exciting option. Students didn’t drink wine unless you were going to a house party, in which case, a bottle of Bulgarian Country White from Threshers would do. There were student pubs and a student disco, with plastic tumblers. Drinking Sol with a lime slice in it was only an option for the confident high flyer doing a business degree.
Now: Every club has student nights, where shots are 50p each, and it’s entirely normal for some second-year to order a bottle of Grey Goose ‘for the table’ on his dad’s emergency credit card. Luminous jelly shots, Jägerbombs, fancy beers and drinking wine with dinner in your student house is completely normal. Unless you’re one of the growing number of students who don’t drink at all – which, again, is far easier now. Because back then if you didn’t drink booze, your choice was orange squash or rusty tap water.
Then: There was no internet and there were no mobiles. In fact, there were no computers (I got my first in 1993 and it looked like something out of a grainy documentary about early space travel). So without Tinder, Bumble, Twitter or Whatsapp there was no way of arranging anything without using a landline, or simply agreeing to be somewhere. As the queue in Halls for the phone generally stretched to Cornwall, it was a case of ‘see you at 6 on Wednesday.’ And if they didn’t turn up, there was no finding out why. So, you tended to hang out with trustworthy people you already knew, who might occasionally bring a new person from their seminar or juggling group home.
You’ve already met everyone in Halls on the Whatsapp group before you start, if you don’t fancy anyone in your tutorial you can summon up half the city’s singles on Tinder and even a passing acquaintance remains connected to your life forever via Snapchat and Instagram, even though you don’t remember meeting them. The net is far, far wider – and every terrible drunken error runs the risk of being on Facebook forever.
Then: There was no Deliveroo, no Hungry House and no Groupon. Which is why students rarely had takeaways and didn’t go out for meals, unless they’d saved up enough grant (yes, grant) to go to the ancient Italian down the road, or meet for lunch in the student’s union and have a salad bar special.
Cooking at home was mostly a dazzling choice of pasta with Dolmio, tuna pasta with Dolmio, oven chips or cheese on toast.
Now: Everywhere does student discounts, everyone is prepared to extend their overdraft to go to Gourmet Burger Kitchen or Nando’s for the third time in a week, and eating out for students is fully normalised. Even campuses have Global Food Villages, rather than ‘the café that looks like a mortuary near the science block’. While eating at home is a riot of options from Aldi and Lidl.
Safe to say, things are a lot better now. In every single way.
NOTE FROM ED: Flic has no surviving photos of herself at uni – today’s students have the opposite problem no doubt, multiple images of themselves dotted across the internet!