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Scenes From Student Life: charting the UK university experience from the past to present

A look at BBC radio 4's new series which charts 900 years of student life in the UK

BBC Radio 4’s new series Scenes From Student Life explores 900 years of British university life, bringing us the unique sounds of campuses across the UK. Recent history graduate Ellie Cawthorne talks to students and academics across the country to cover the most formative higher education experiences of the past and present, as well as the rituals and traditions at the heart of British institutions.

The ten-part series takes in everything from St Andrew’s legendary Raisin Weekend, the 1968 Inch Affair protests at University of Essex and Oxford’s bloody St Scholastica’s Day Riot. The latter makes for a particularly interesting episode, with Hawthorne heading to the city to learn more about the bloody clash between Oxford students and locals on 10 February 1355. As she learns from a local historian, the fracas originated when two students’ objected to the quality of the wine in a city centre inn. This lead to a large-scale scrap in which 63 scholars and an unknown number of local civilians died. The tensions which exist between the student and local communities in the present day are somewhat excised in the annual Town vs Gown boxing match held at the university’s debating chamber.

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The fact that Cawthorne reports from location, frequently in the thick of the action unfolding around her, makes for some immersive radio. Elsewhere, we hear the 17th-century journal of St John’s College Cambridge student Abraham de la Pryme compared to Bethany Hutson’s 21st-century student blog; a survey of how UK unis act as a launchpad for creative talents; and a look at the challenges British students face at universities overseas and vice versa. Have a listen for an entertaining insight into the British student experience.

Scenes From Student Life is available to listen to on the BBC website.


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