The rivalry between The University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University is one of the most well-known university rivalries in the UK. University of Nottingham student Poppy Read-Pitt examines how the rivalry originates from classist ideas surrounding working class access to higher education.
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the rivalry itself is classist, or that most things that come as a result of it are either – most universities that exist in the same city as the other have a jovial rivalry like the one between UoN and NTU.
It’s practically a rite of passage for a Notts student to be ridiculed based on whichever university they attend
More often than not, that’s what the rivalry is: jovial. My friends at Trent and I always joke about the others’ university being worse than our own – it’s practically a rite of passage for a Notts student to be ridiculed based on whichever university they attend.
Yet, some UoN students seem to level jokes at Trent students in the name of this rivalry that feel more insidious and can echo classist ideas about universities and education.
“Your dad works for my dad”
A satirical article from The Tab detailed some of chants we at UoN have been known to yell at Trent students during our (normally annual if not for the pandemic) Varsity games. Some highlights include: “your dad works for my dad”, “if you can’t go to uni, go to Trent” and “You’re thick, you’re poor, you couldn’t even score, Nottingham Trent, Nottingham Trent”.
I’ve heard similar iterations on nights out and upon speaking to friends from Trent they all confirmed that they have felt looked down upon by UoN students on occasion, with one of them saying it was something they encountered so often that it was “in the back of their mind to avoid the talk of what uni they go to”, upon meeting someone their age.
It would be easy to say that this is more about academic pedigree than classism, as something that is often thrown at Trent students is that they are less intelligent that us and that their university is not as good.
We are not necessarily intellectually superior to Trent
UoN supposedly ranks higher in the league tables, has higher entry grades and is a more prestigious institution, while Trent is a former polytechnic and doesn’t boast the pedigree that UoN does.
These preconceptions of our respective universities are false, however, as we are not necessarily intellectually superior to Trent. For example, the idea that we are a better university because we are a Russell Group university is false.
Being a member of the Russell Group is not an indicator of academic excellence, and the fact that Trent used to be a polytechnic college does not necessarily mean it would be any less of a university.
There are many non-Russell Groups (such as Bath or Lancaster) that are ranked highly in the league tables, as well as many non-Russell Groups dominating the individual subject leader tables too. 50% of the top 10 universities for English and Creative Writing are non-Russell Groups and 30% of them are former polytechnics.
We don’t often rank much higher than Trent in the league tables
Also, we don’t often rank much higher than Trent in the league tables. On this Guardian league table, UoN ranks 52nd while NTU is only three below us at 55th. Often, we are far closer to NTU in the ranking than we are to other prestigious Russell Group institutions like Durham or Warwick.
Nottingham Trent is also a particularly good university. They’re rated gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework and 97% of their graduates are in work or further education sixth months post-graduation. Trent excels in places we don’t, for example in Philosophy where Trent ranks higher than us.
So, considering that we are not intellectually superior to Trent, where does the idea that we are come from?
I would argue it comes from the perceived connotations of our two universities, with Trent being perceived as ‘worse’ than us because of what we subconsciously attribute to former polytechnic universities.
Polytechnics existed from the 1960s until 1992, when the Further and Higher Education Act gave polytechnics university status. Before that time, they were, as their name indicated, technical colleges that were created to expand access to higher education.
They generally focused on producing vocational degrees such as engineering, management, town planning, etc unlike their contemporaries who were teaching more abstract degrees, like maths or history.
As a result of the vocational degrees being more focused on preparing you for employment, the cohort of polytechnics was made up of mainly working class students.
Despite only offering a different type of education as opposed to one of a lower quality, polytechnics were looked down upon.
I would wager a large part of this was to do with polytechnics widened tertiary education access to “‘middle England’, working class homes and ethnic minorities”, as Sir Peter Scott (former vice chancellor to Kingston university and current professor of higher education studies at UCL’s Institute of Education) writes in his Guardian op-ed.
He argues that this was something society took issue with as many believed “a university education should be rationed to the socially privileged and economically successful – plus, perhaps, a few deserving ‘scholarships boys’”.
These attitudes have filtered down through our culture and into the subconsciousness of current students, the anti-Trent chants that combine wealth and educational merit into the same insult is evidence of that.
The fact that so many of our students have an intellectual superiority complex over other students from Trent is further proof.
For our generation, polytechnics are universities, so perhaps it’s time we started treating them as such and ditched the classism of the 80s
Students often make these jokes without understanding the venom behind them, and how would they know?
All the conflict over the expansion and legitimisation of polytechnics was hashed out well before most of us were even born, let alone even thinking about what universities to attend.
For our generation, polytechnics are universities, so perhaps it’s time we started treating them as such and ditched the classism of the 80s.
Think about why you’re making the joke and what ideologies you’re playing on by making the joke
Again, before I am accused of being a snowflake or being oversensitive, I’m not saying never joke about Nottingham Trent again. I am saying, think about why you’re making the joke and what ideologies you’re playing on by making the joke.
I’m sure that anyone who makes those comments to Trent students or sings those charts isn’t a full blown classist, instead they perhaps haven’t put any thought into what their joke is actually implying. Still, maybe it’s time to retire those varsity chants.
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