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Graduates from poorer backgrounds in a conundrum

Diane Hall


Back of a Graduates Head facing her collegues.

Maybe it’s always been the case, that graduates from more affluent backgrounds have it easier than those from the other end of the financial spectrum. Maybe Covid just seems to have exacerbated the issue.

Having not been to university myself, nor my husband, my eldest daughter’s experience is completely new to me. She’s what they term a ‘first generation’ student. She’s loaned some of her course fees and living costs from the government to complete her degree, which she’s required to pay back when she earns over £27,000. From what I’ve observed over the last few months, this may be some way into the future.

Having submitted her dissertation and awaiting her final mark, she has naturally turned her focus towards securing employment in the field she’s wanted to work in since primary school: the TV and film industry.

What we’ve found is that the competition just for internships and unpaid work in this field is astounding (we knew it would be a challenge, but…wow!). If it’s this difficult to give her time away for free, I’m worried about how hard it will be to find someone who will actually pay her.

The requirements for unpaid experience seem impossible to gain unless you have a completely different background to hers. Every opportunity she’s explored has demanded not just an understanding, but working experience, of the industry. Yet it’s not the sort of sector you can hop in and out of like retail or administration, for example…filming is intense and takes place in spurts, very rarely at weekends, and certainly not in every town and city.

She has spent most of her spare time working in retail, waitressing and customer service whilst studying for her degree. This was a necessity, to earn a wage, to help pay her way through university. Just when was she supposed to gather experience of the film and TV industry?

Now that she does have time, because her degree has ended, unpaid/intern options are not just limited, but full to the brim of people with reams of intern experience and working knowledge of film and TV, which they gained whilst studying when my daughter was slogging her guts out for minimum wage.

I can only assume that these students didn’t need to earn money to survive during their course. Which leads me to assume they’re from more affluent backgrounds. This does seem unfair, but that’s life, isn’t it? Having money gives the wealthy far more options and opportunities than those who don’t have it.

Because of Covid, opportunities are already scarce, in many sectors. Though my eldest has been shortlisted a couple of times, she’s not got further than this, despite creating a large portfolio of visual and written content from high school onwards in her spare, spare time. The elite probably have Steven Spielberg on speed dial.

As a mother, you want to do all you can to help your child, to protect them from the hardships of life if you’re able to. I can’t help her with this, unfortunately; the scales are tipped against her because of her parents’ life choices and capabilities.

Imagine being a film company, though. Judging the people with the most interesting and suitable CVs against someone who has the same academic references and theory, but with no direct experience to speak of. It’s a no-brainer that they’d go for the former. However, and I’m truly generalising here, those from more affluent backgrounds, who often get everything they want when they want it, may also have limited life knowledge, resilience, determination, tenacity and self-awareness—you don’t need these things with a cushion of wealth behind you. These are valuable soft skills and aptitudes for any employer.

This article isn’t meant to highlight my sour grapes (even though it reads like this!); it’s attempting to highlight the unlevel playing field many graduates experience when they are from a poorer background.

In the real world, we all know that money talks. I just wish it didn’t shout quite so loudly when my offspring is trying to say something…

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