Ever wanted to know what life as student is really like in 2023? We asked 20-year-old student-turned-amateur-anthropologist Annie to tell us her observations about the people, parties and juiciest secrets of the UK’s unis. Here’s her verdict.
Universities. National institutions. Places of learning and research, incubators of intellect. Unfortunately, also the land of the ‘student’. Student is a varied species which feeds mainly on pasta and rice. British students can often be found at the nearest Wetherspoons, getting drunk on vanilla flavoured vodka because the regular one is 30p more expensive. They tend to be slightly nocturnal and the males are known for going to extraordinary lengths to attract mates that they will subsequently ‘leave on read’.
Subtypes of ‘student’ vary based on location and each British uni comes with its own set of defining characteristics. So, buckle up: this is an entirely imaginary but 100 percent accurate investigation into the private lives of students in the wild, in their most natural habitat – on what they like to call, ‘a night out’.
We start in Newcastle and encounter Georgia moments after arriving at Market Shaker, an underground bar. She promptly begins chatting about the time she almost jumped into the Tyne ‘just for laughs’, which seems common for the ‘Geordie’ student species. Other notable characteristics appear to include: studying Geography, being obsessed with the North/South divide, Nike Air Max and wearing gym clothes with no intention of going to the gym.
We get a beverage or two, and are shocked to discover that not only does the bar serve treble-shot drinks, but they’re effectively the cheapest option. ‘I can neck one a’ those in 30 seconds,’ Georgia gloats. She proceeds to demonstrate, daring us to do the same. Unfortunately, we wake up the next morning surrounded by cows next to Castle Leazes, with little to no recollection of our night after leaving the bar at 2am – tampering with the data of our Newcastle study.
‘Bristol’ is a small settlement in the south-west of the UK with a dominant student population. We approach a Bristolian houseparty, and observe David, or ‘Davo’, as he introduces himself. He asks if we can ‘spare a line of anything,’ insisting that he was asking for ‘just, like, a bit.’ When we reject him he shrugs a quick ‘nah that’s fair,’ and turns to the woman in our group. ‘Sick jacket,’ he winks.
Davo and his mullet move onto another female, describing, in detail, his ‘passion’ for DJing and repeatedly asking what school she went to. Noting a Karl Marx patch she has on her tote bag, Davo asks if she’s ‘into all that stuff.’ Then: ‘I get it. I pretty much only wear Carhaart, so.’ As he leaves, Davo invites us to ‘come Grav’ with his friends. Uninterested in 2for1 Jagerbombs or club remixes of ‘Moves Like Jagger’, we politely decline.
We begin our study of Glaswegian students in Firewater, a sweaty basement bar with £1 shots and a huge ‘Definitely Maybe’ cover on the wall. This is where Andrew approaches us, asking to buy us a drink. Interested, we oblige. Then, completely out of the blue: ‘I’m in a band, by the way.’ Andrew buys himself a Tennants, and then pivots on his Doc Martens to face us. ‘Yeah bro, I love the Smiths,’ he says, then frowns. ‘Just... Morrisey, you know?.’ Pointing at a pink badge pinned to his denim jacket he continues: ‘Did you see Barbie? So feminist.’
After a few drinks, Andrew asks if he could take us somewhere a ‘bit different’: ‘Have you heard of Nice n Sleazy’s?’ As we walk, he continues to talk about politics, and how his ‘working class roots’ made him passionate about ‘just like, politics in general, man.’ We later find out he lives in a five bed detached house in the suburb of Newton Mearns.
Despite its geographical closeness to Glasgow, the Edinburgh student is a closer relative to those in Bristol or Exeter, due to similar places of origin. We meet Eleanor at an event called ‘pres’, being held in a spacious flat in Marchmont. She invites us in with a smile in cargo pants and an Urban Outfitters corset top.
Eleanor chose Edinburgh for the ‘cute dark academia vibes.’ ‘Fucking cold though,’ she says. ‘I didn’t realise how, like, advanced Scotland is! Scottish people are soooo cute.’ After a while, a debate breaks out regarding where to go out. Eleanor suggests Why Not, but is outvoted. We end up in Hive, where she spends the night drinking Venoms and asking random men to roll cigarettes for her.
In the small seaside town of St Andrews, we head to another house party, as ‘there’s really not much else to do’. We get to Lottie’s at around 10, who is distracted by a bottle of wine that had been handed to her. ‘This is a screw cap!’ she whines.
Later, Lottie reappears, to tell us she knows ‘loads of royals.’ ‘I can’t say who though,’ she says. ‘Seriously. But I know loads.’ We ask her how she’s finding Fife and she looks confused: ‘Is that a food?’ The party starts to dwindle in numbers at 1am, after a fight breaks out between two different fashion show committee members over ‘sustainable practices’.
For a change of pace, we decide to investigate a simple ‘pub night’ in Durham, where we observe a group of third year girls, including Rachel, our subject of interest. Rachel only drinks sweet ciders (unless she’s attending the Champagne Soc ball – that’s an ‘exception’).
After two pints, she mentions, unprompted, how much she would have ‘hated to go to Cambridge,’ but never gives an actual explanation why. Soon after, she brings up her A level results, referencing her A* in English literature. Rachel continues to drink cider, then leaves the pub just before midnight in tears, after someone made a joke that she would not make a good Prime Minister. Her friends seem unphased and leave not long after.
We head to Loughborough on a Wednesday to watch the weekly celebration known colloquially as ‘sports night’. We stand for almost an hour observing the students shuffling from foot to foot, before approaching Steven, sporting a pair of skinny jeans and a Tommy Shelby haircut. Steven explains that he’s a ‘second year runner’ and, as an afterthought, that he studies biology.
He goes onto explain that he usually gets up at 6:30am to go for a run through campus ‘with the pros’, but tonight he plans to ‘let loose’ and ‘get absolutely trollied.’ After drinking around seven blue VKs, Steven tells us he was going to ‘graft’, which seems to involve showing various women his latest 5K PB, asking to follow them on Strava, and explaining why running on concrete is actually bad for your knees. He goes home alone at 12:15am.
Manchester is by far the largest city in our study, so we head to a student hotspot: 256 bar in Fallowfield. Here, we meet Oscar, who’s playing pool with a friend. His long-ish hair is tucked behind his ears revealing a single silver hoop, which he assures us is ‘not on the gay ear.’
Oscar went to a public school he wouldn’t name and came to Manchester after hearing ‘I Wanna be Adored’ by the Stone Roses, citing the city’s ‘indie vibes’ as a pull factor. He seems to forget that he is actually attending university when we ask about it, telling us he hadn’t been to a lecture in weeks. At around 11pm, Oscar runs out of money and texts his father to ask for more. ‘Overdraft is a way of life,’ he nods, brazenly.