For young people in Hartlepool, one of the most deprived parts of the country, going to university is more than just a rite of passage. It represents the chance to transform their lives and become a source of pride for not just their families but their whole community. In 2007, 16% of the town\’s working-age population had a degree or equivalent qualification – well below the national average of 26.2%. A fifth had no qualifications at all.
Adam Garnsey, 18, hopes to be the first in his family to go to university. He needs an A and two Bs in his A-levels to study sociology and criminology at Manchester University. He has been predicted an A, a B and a C. He shoulders the heavy burden of his parents\’ expectations. Both his mother and his father left school at 16 and went to work. His mother is a college administrator and his father is a welder with his own business.
\”At the moment, every conversation I have is about results and uni. I can\’t plan anything, I just am waiting to see where I will go. I know this year there will be less leeway if you don\’t get the results you need,\” Adam said today. I don\’t know what I\’ll do if I don\’t get the results. The longer I wait, the more I question how the exams went. If I got a full-time job and didn\’t go to uni, I would probably never get a degree because I\’d get used to earning. If I go, my sister, who\’s 13, will also want to go. That would be good.\”
Jackie, 49, Adam\’s mother, would love her son to go to university. \”He is so intelligent, he needs to use his brain,\” she said. \”When I was at school, it was just two people in each year that went to university and they were the teachers\’ children. The rest of us left at 16 and went to work in factories. University would give him a new life.\”
At Adam\’s sixth-form college, four-fifths go on to university. It is one of the best in the town. \”Uni is the done thing, it\’s just accepted that you will go there at my college,\” he said. For Adam and his friends, university is also a chance to leave the town. Hartlepool has an unemployment rate of 6.8%, compared with the national average of 3.6%.
Luke Arnell, 18, one of Adam\’s friends, says the town is \”a bit dead-end\”. Many young people from the school they went to before college are in work. But Luke wonders whether \”they will still be doing those jobs in 20 years\”.
Luke is hoping also go to Manchester, to study physics. He will be the first in his family to study for a degree. He needs three A grades, which he has been predicted. This year, he says, his course at Manchester has had 20% more applications than last year.
\”I know that if I don\’t get the grades I\’ll stand no chance,\” he said. \”I\’ll have to do another year of college if I don\’t get in. It\’s just a year and it will influence the next 30 but I don\’t really want to. The panic hasn\’t totally started to kick in, but when it does I don\’t think I\’ll be able to sleep.\”
Dominic Howard, 18, another friend, wants to do sports coaching at Northumbria University and needs two Bs and a C. He has a calendar on his bedroom wall and is crossing off the days until the results are published. He has already calculated that his accommodation costs will be more than his student loan, so he\’ll start university with £300 of debt.
Caroline O\’Neill of Hartlepool council said there was \”a huge sense of achievement and pride\” for the parents of teenagers who were the first in their families to go to university. \”That pride permeates through to the wider community. Those teenagers will be invited back to give prizes out at their old schools.\”For now though, Adam, Luke and Dominic are doing anything to distract themselves from thinking about results. \”I have watched every film in my parents\’ cabinet and can recite some of the scripts,\” says Dominic.