According to new Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, her college life was not easy. Born to a working-class family, she could not compete with privately-educated students during her time in Aberdeen University. She believed that social disadvantage “follows young people throughout their education”.
Pledging to “change the system” in her speech at Edinburgh College, she said:
“I first felt the unfairness of inequality when I moved from primary school in leafy Elgin to secondary school in urban Dundee.
“Expansive sports fields replaced by playground concrete. An average pupil in prosperous Elgin, I was suddenly near top of the class in my new secondary in Dundee.
“When I went to study law at Aberdeen University, I found the wheel had turned again and I was surrounded by privately-educated pupils whose backgrounds I couldn’t relate to and whose achievements I couldn’t compete with.
“They would spend holidays at their parents’ law firms, I would work preparing food containers for oil rigs.
“My family wasn’t rich but we weren’t in poverty either, and it just seemed wrong that advantage and disadvantage followed young people throughout their education.
“After university I worked as a welfare-rights adviser, helping disadvantaged students to get the support they need.
“The frustrating struggle to help my clients to work the system made me realise that what I really needed to do was to change the system.”
“Government, when it responds to what people need, working with them not just for them, can transform lives beyond recognition, and when government fails it can have a devastating impact on vulnerable lives.
“Above all it has reinforced my belief that the fortunate have a responsibility to use our power to help those who don’t have the same opportunities.
“And as a parliamentarian, the campaigns I have led with extraordinary men and women, like Debtbusters, made me angry at the injustices working-class people face but also inspired me as people came together to challenge power.”