SOCIAL LIFE IN A PROVINCIAL UNIVERSITY

A number of assumptions about the way of life in a pro-vincial university are current today. I used myself to hold a number of them but in the course of an inquiry in King's College, Newcastle, on which this paper is based, I modified my views considerably.

It was with a view to seeing how much truth there was in these assumptions that an inquiry was undertaken at King's College, Newcastle, during the academic years 1952-54. One-tenth of the undergraduate population was interviewed; in order to check whether conditions in Newcastle were peculiar, or common to other northern university cities, a small sample of Liverpool students living at home were also seen, which made a total of 373.

First the question of the students' homes: university teachers may find it deplorable that many of the students live at home with parents or other guardians, but this is by no means the unanimous view of the students themselves. Nearly half of them, both at Liverpool and Newcastle, consciously prefer it, and think it has many advantages over going away to another university. About an equal number regret it, and a small number are undecided either way. Those who prefer living at home ascribe their preference to a number of factors, principally home cooking, good facilities for working, without the distractions of resident life, and the companionship of those for whom they feel affection.

Not a few of those who wished themselves away said 'It's hopeless to try and work at home'; and indeed the first question we must ask, if we wish to get a true picture of the home student's life, is: how good a place is the home for a young man or woman who needs to spend many hours each week in quiet, uninterrupted reading? It might be supposed that household chores would affect the picture, and students were asked to say how much time they spent on them daily. The results were classified as 'Heavy', 'Negligible' and 'Neither'. Counted under negligible were those who replied 'None at all' or 'Hardly any' or 'I wash up occasionally'. These accounted for just 44 per cent of the Newcastle and the Liverpool students. The criterion by which to judge of 'Heavy' chores was whether the student himself felt his share to be a heavy one. It is possible that some of the others, not so classified, spent as many hours on house-work; but what is undertaken from choice, rather as a hobby and relaxation, is bound to seem different from a regular responsibility, undertaken from necessity. In this category were found 12 per cent Newcastle students and only 5 out of the 67 in Liverpool. As one would expect, more women than men are found in this group, and with both, those whose responsibilities are heavy are usually the victims of some kind of family emergency, such as the illness of the mother or (occasionally) the father, or the death of the mother. The remainder, though spending an amount of time on domestic chores which is by no means negligible, are not oppressed by it, and do not feel it a hindrance to their work. It may be taken that their own instinct is sound in this, and that if they had not been doing house-work they would have been doing something other than reading.

Much more fundamental to the matter we are considering is the question of where they do their work when they are at home. The students interviewed, then, were asked the question 'Where do you usually work when at home?' In Newcastle 30 Out of 152 give the family living-room as their usual place, and another 18 say they sometimes work there. But 95, or 62 per cent, have special provision made for them, either by some heating arrangement in their bedroom, or by the putting of a fire in another living-room. Much depends on how one looks at it. In comparison with the Oxford college or the hall of residence, where every student has his own room, it seems regrettable that as many as a third of these students worked in the family room, either sometimes or always. But if one reflects that in all probability most of these people, when they were grammar school pupils, worked in the family room, then the figure of 62 per cent for whom special provision is made indicates a real effort on the part of these families to meet the felt needs of a university student, for heating is a heavy item in a family budget. The question also arises in connection with students living in lodgings, who will be considered later. The culprit seems to be chiefly that unique social institution the English bedroom, on account of which about half the available living space in a house is unheated and unfurnished so as to render it unusable for anything but sleeping.

(Alice Eden From an article in The British Journal of Sociology, December 1959)