University: 1996 versus 2016

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It’s 20 years this week since I started university. 20 years! How is it even possible that I am that old?! I had the best times ever at Swansea (check out this post if you also studied at Swansea in the 1990s). I made some amazing friends. Met the man who is now my husband. As clichéd as it sounds, I discovered a lot about who I am. I even got a degree! The memories are still so strong, some days it only feels like yesterday.

But actually, yesterday, two things happened. The first, was that Swansea University was named the best university in Wales, knocking Cardiff off the top spot.
The second was that I started my annual lecturing at a local university. I’ve been teaching as part of a journalism module for the last eight years – I’m the ‘person from industry’ element of a wider media course, teaching my students how to write and put together articles.
As I looked around the room at the young faces of my new class, it suddenly struck me that when I started at uni, they were either babies or hadn’t yet been born.
Their lectures take place in the most beautiful, well-resourced building, and as they sat there on their iPhones, it hit me just how different their university experience is to mine.

Sure, just like we did, they will have the most amazing times as they make friends for life, have awesome nights out with their friends, stay up all night finishing their course work, miss lectures because they are hungover and the rest of it.
But, naturally, over the course of two decades so much has changed in that time…. So here’s 25 things about going to university in 1996 versus going to university in 2016.
Can you relate? What else would you add? Let me know in the comments below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page, or by tweeting me on @cardiffmummy


1996: Our parents dropped us off at our student residences on our first day, and about a week later we got a letter from home asking us how we were getting on and updating us on all the latest family news.
2016: Their parents dropped them off, and Facetimed five minutes later to check they were okay.


1996: We counted out our change and queued in the rain for the pay phone to call home, cursing the person in front of us for being on the phone to their boyfriend.
2016: They message their family Whatsapp group all the time and call home while lying in bed with a hangover.


1996: Some of us were lucky enough to be paid to go to university with a full maintenance grant.

2016: £9,000 tuition fees. Every. Single. Year.


1996: When we moved out of halls, we went to grotty student houses with brown carpet, saggy sofas and single beds with lumpy mattress. We paid about £40 a week.
2016: When they move out of halls, the grotty student houses are still available, but so are luxury serviced student apartments with double beds, private showers, inclusive WiFi and a 32” flat-screen TV in every room. They pay about £180 a week.


1996: We had a group answer phone message on our communal landline. Every month, we went through our phone bills with different coloured highlighters, working out who had made what calls and who owed what, grumbling about having to pay a share of the unclaimed phones calls when you knew they definitely weren’t yours.
2016: Landline? What landline?! No phone bill worries when everyone has their own mobile.


1996: We ordered our course text books on the campus book store, paid a fortune because that was the only place you could get it from, and had to wait two weeks for them to be delivered.
2016: They order their course text books on Amazon, because it’s way cheaper, and they arrive the next day. Or they download them on their Kindle and they are available immediately.


1996: We spent hours handwriting our essays as neatly as we could. From about 1998, we queued for an hour to use the computers in the library, trying our best to get everything done before our allocated time slot was up.
2016: They all have their own laptops, tablets, smart phones and work as and when they want.


1996: We had to print out our essays and go to campus to hand in our course work to the department secretary, who would give you a receipt with the time it was handed in.
2016: They email their course work directly and get a ‘received’ reply from the lecturer.


1996: Important department announcements were displayed on the notice board.
2016: Important department announcements are emailed or texted.


1996: We spent hours in the library, copying out significant paragraphs from books, maybe even photocopying a few pages on the big clunky library machine if we were feeling indulgent.
2016: They use their smart phone to photograph relevant pages from text books in the library, printing it out at home if they were feeling indulgent. They also do a lot of their research by Google.


1996: We got told off for writing notes or talking at the back of the lecture theatre.
2016: They get told off for texting or watching YouTube videos at the back of the lecture theatre.


1996: If we missed a lecture, we had to copy our friend’s notes out by hand and hope someone picked up handouts for us.
2016: If they miss a lecture, they can email and get a PowerPoint presentation of everything they missed.


1996: We drank in dingy smoke-filled student pubs and went home with our hair and clothes stinking of cigarettes.
2016: They drink in light and airy wine bars and have never known a time when you could smoke in pubs.


1996: Fancy dress was a big part of student life and we raided charity shops to make our costumes.
2016: Fancy dress is a big part of student life and they scour Pinterest for awesome ideas and order it all from Amazon.


1996: We woke ourselves up with an awful coffee from the campus refectory, served in a brown plastic cup.
2016: They grab a skinny latte to go from the Costa or Starbucks next to campus.


1996: We danced to 90s music because it was cool and modern.
2016: They dance to 90s music because the Students’ Union bar runs an ironic retro 90s night.


1996: We danced to Pulp’s Disco 2000 and wondered what life would be like in the future.
2016: Pulp’s Disco 2000 was released either before they were born or while they were still in nappies (1995). 2000 is the olden days to them.


1996: We woke up the morning after a crazy night out to be reminded by our housemates about the embarrassing things we did.
2016: They wake up the morning after a crazy night to be reminded by 84 photos on Facebook about the embarrassing things they did and checking for drunk texts they sent.


1996: We arranged verbally where to meet our friends – and we made damn sure we were there.
2016: If they can’t meet a friend as planned, they text the new arrangements.


1996: We all went round to the house of the only friend we knew who could afford Sky 1 to watch new episodes of Friends. We were all jealous of the girl in our halls who had the Rachel hair cut.
2016: Friends is on the vintage TV channels constantly and they laugh at how twee and old-fashioned everything is. Especially Jennifer Aniston’s 90s hair.


1996: At the end of the term, we wrote down all our friend’s landline phone numbers and addresses in an address book. We wrote to them over the holidays, maybe called them once or twice and hoped our parents didn’t notice it on their phone bills.
2016: They’re already Facebook friends and in a Whatsapp group with all their uni mates, so the chat carries on like normal through the holidays.


1996: We asked all our friends to find out if the person we fancied was single and hoped they wouldn’t find out we were stalking them.
2016: They check the object of their affection’s relationship status on Facebook and hope they don’t accidentally like a photo or send a friend request and out themselves as a stalker.


1996: If you had a boyfriend/girlfriend at another university, your mind was in overdrive wondering if they were cheating on you with every single girl/boy you met when you visited them at their uni.
2016: If they have a boyfriend/girlfriend at another university or back home, their mind is in overdrive wondering if they are cheating on them with every single new girl/boy they make friends with on Facebook.


1996: We know our uni days were the best days ever.

2016: They know their uni days are the best days ever – because some things never change.

Were you at university in the 1990s? Let me know if you relate in the comments below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or by tweeting me on @cardiffmummy


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2 Comments to University: 1996 versus 2016

  1. Oh a lot of these are very familiar- I remember queuing to print in the computer room and handwriting letters. I even have the replies somewhere! And I decided against getting a laptop because I couldn’t see the point of the expense compared to a word processor. I suspect my phone would outperform both with ease! The thought they’ve never known smoking in pubs was such a shock though. In my head, I’m about 27 🙂

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