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The 93% Club, Fighting for Equal Opportunities in an Unequal System By Russell Sherrard-Smith

Emma Bowler is the head of the newly formed 93% Club at Surrey, a “student-led society, aiming to promote access and opportunity for state educated students at the University of Surrey”. 93% of the population is state-educated but this is not reflected in the levels of state-educated people in positions of importance.

93% of the population is state-educated but this is not reflected in the levels of state-educated people in positions of importance.

Surrey is just one of a wider network of 93% Clubs across the country. At other universities such as Durham, Oxford and Cambridge, there is a larger focus on getting state educated students into the institutions. Fortunately, the situation is better than perhaps elsewhere as Emma describes:

“At Surrey, I think 90.1% of our population is state-educated. So we're about average, which means that we're okay with the intake, we just really need to try focus on upskilling and helping people get to the careers that they want to get to.”

The demographics of Surrey appear to reflect parity between state and non-state educated students but it should also be noted that the 93% statistic is inclusive of grammar schools which give students “a vastly greater awareness of opportunities” than those from comprehensives.

Emma and I spoke over Zoom (of course) to discuss what the 93% Club gets up to at Surrey. Despite the circumstances, and my ineptitude with video conferencing applications, she was very keen to talk about the problems state-educated students face and the ways that the gap can be closed.

“On the intake, there's always room for improvement. [A 3% difference with the national average] isn't much but in terms of raw numbers, that’s still a good thousand people. […] Personally, I really want our society to focus on upscaling students to the next stage whilst at university and after rather than before.”

In terms of events that the 93% Club are holding to help give state-educated students those opportunities, Emma mentioned the kinds of events they’ve held already - for example, a social mobility and law panel with trainees “from five different law firms, including Slaughter and May and HSF”, so that attendees could ask questions and network with them, which was held in October. Emma particularly stressed the importance of networking in advancing a person’s career, and highlighted how the head-start that privately-educated students have in networking give them far more opportunities later in life than state-educated students. She summed it up quite succinctly - “your network really is your net worth.”

The 93% Club has also been trying to make information more accessible for state-educated students in more fields. “There’s so much out there about lawyers, consulting, finance, banking, but you don't find much about things like publishing, or public relations, or marketing,” Emma explained. To broaden the scope of information, they’ve been working on an alternative careers week, which would “involve skill sessions, such as coding to help people upskill, and other things like decision making, strategic planning […] if you read job descriptions, they're like, ‘we need you to have evidence of this,’ […] and where on earth are we supposed to get that kind of thing? So we’re trying to focus on that.”

Besides her role as President, Emma also works for a charity called Dig Deep, which works to improve access to clean water in Kenya. She’s been in the process of organising a keynote speech with its CEO (perhaps illustrating the importance of networking) - “he’ll talk about the charity sector, and the skills needed to get into that - he’s had a very interesting career.”

After talking about the kinds of events the 93% Club has been planning and holding (and after I had run out of things to ask), we returned to the broader topic of the gap between state and non-stated educated students. Emma brought up some of the findings she’d found in a 2019 report she’d read from the government’s social mobility commission, which “you’d suspect intuitively, but when you read the hard facts are still quite surprising - those from better backgrounds are almost 80% more likely to be in a professional job than their working-class peers. And that’s such a big percentage gap.”

Committee applications (as well as wider membership) for the 93% Club are currently open - if you would like to get involved, more information is available on their Instagram page @93clubsurrey.

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Created with an image by cegoh