The 93% Club Penryn: ‘We have a long way to go in bridging the social mobility gap on Penryn Campus’

The 93% Club Penryn

The 93% Club describes itself as “the UK’s largest social mobility network for students”, “dedicated to supporting the personal and professional development of state educated students at universities across the UK”. The 93% Club Penryn was announced on 11 February and has since gained traction on social media.

Lars Mucklejohn spoke to founder and President Emma Waldron, a fourth-year History and Politics student at the University of Exeter, about the club and challenges faced by state-educated university students in Cornwall.

Imposter syndrome

Emma described how imposter syndrome affects many state-educated university students, “which means certain barriers are put in place that may stop these students from reaching their personal and professional potential”.

She has first-hand experience of imposter syndrome: “Originally from the North East of England, I attended a comprehensive school where the odds of making it to a Russell Group university were low.” She outlined how “a bad experience at an elite Russell Group institution on one of their outreach summer school programmes left me feeling completely unworthy of a place in higher education. Despite working extremely hard to achieve the grades needed to be accepted, I felt it was by luck that I had managed to secure a place at such a prestigious institution as the University of Exeter.”

The Higher Education Statistics Agency reports that the University of Exeter’s intake from state schools for the 2019/20 academic year was 64.5%—lower than many of its competitors in the South West and elsewhere in the UK. In contrast, Falmouth University saw a relatively high intake of 93.4%.

On her time as a fresher, Emma said: “I did not speak up in any of my classes during the first month under the assumption my strong north-eastern accent sounded unintelligent compared to my well-articulated peers.” “By the time it had taken me to find my feet, many of my peers had already secured internships or work experience for the summer. I constantly felt like I was ten steps behind everyone else”, she described.

The 93% Club Penryn

“By talking to other students who had similar academic backgrounds to me, I realised we all shared similar experiences, yet there was no space for this type of conversation or representation on campus”, said Emma on the process of establishing a club in Penryn.

“These students are already a step behind the rest trying to keep up with settling in and finding their feet before even thinking about making connections, bagging an internship, or expanding their CV”, she described.

Emma said that setting up a club “was the best way to create a community on campus that represents the voices of state-educated students whilst providing guidance and support from a national network of like-minded individuals who all share a similar vision. I got in contact with the relevant people to help me set up our club, found a small team of students who believed in our mission, and The 93% Club Penryn was created and affiliated within two weeks.”

The 93% Club was founded in 2016 by Sophie Pender, then a student at the University of Bristol, and has expanded to over 30 clubs at universities around the UK, including one in Exeter, which was founded last July.

The group notes that privately-schooled students, despite representing only 7% of secondary school students, are disproportionately represented in many top jobs and aims to benefit university students from state schools through employability events.

Summarising the aims of the club in Penryn, Emma said: “I want state-educated voices from both the University of Exeter and Falmouth University to be amplified and validated.”

Going forward

Emma was worried that the club could have been problematic “by creating further class divisions on campus and possibly increasing hostility between state and privately-educated students”.

Instead, she aims to “provide equal opportunities to all students by removing any barriers faced by state-educated students. It is important that we have support and participation from privately-educated students, so we can bring our communities together and create a mutual understanding where we all work to amplify the voices of the 93%”.

For Emma, the club has a bright future: “So far, we have had some incredibly positive feedback from many students which tells me this club deserves a place on campus and people are ready to have these types of discussions. I am excited to see how this club progresses after I graduate this summer and see where the next committee takes it. We have a long way to go in bridging the social mobility gap on Penryn Campus, but it must start somewhere.”

In response to this article, University of Exeter Deputy Registrar and Chief College Operations Officer Linda Peka told the Anchor: “Equality, diversity, inclusion, and parity of experience is an incredibly important priority for us. As part of that, we are already undertaking work to widen access and increase the number of state school students at the University of Exeter; this includes working with schools, fair access programmes like Exeter Scholars, extensive outreach including Discover University, our digital engagement platform, work through our Exeter Student Ambassador Scheme, and a wide range of student recruitment activities. We have also set up an expert task and finish group on state sector recruitment which will consult with student groups and report to the University’s Governing Council in April. We know we still have a lot more to do and we welcome opportunities to work with students to help us achieve these aims. I am really delighted to hear about the formation of the 93% club on the Penryn campus to promote conversations and dialogue and to provide opportunities and support. We have a 93% group representing students on our Exeter campuses who have been working with us to support fair access and their insights have been invaluable. I welcome future opportunities to talk with members in Cornwall, particularly to co-create ideas and plans to widen participation and to build a truly inclusive university community.”

On behalf of the Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union, SU President Student Experience Amelia Banton said: “I am so pleased that Emma has set up our branch of The 93% Club and that it’s had a great response so far. I’ve always believed that the best part of everyone’s university experience is their clubs and societies, and I know that this one will do wonderful things for its members both during their studies and beyond. I’ve recently brought The 93% Club Penryn to the attention of the deputy registrar at the University of Exeter who is keen to embed the society, and it’s Devon equivalent, into university decision-making to ensure that their voices are heard, which is a really exciting development.”