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The University of Edinburgh
Andrea Levy Scholarship

The story behind the scholarship

Andrea Levy’s parents were Windrush generation immigrants from Jamaica. She grew up as a bright working class girl in a council flat in Highbury, north London. She went to the local grammar school and got a good clutch of GCSEs and ‘A’ levels. But in later life she would recall the appointment she had with the school’s Careers Officer as she was about to leave. He took one look at her and, flicking through his box file, pulled out a card. Marks & Spencer were opening a branch locally and were recruiting for shop floor workers. His short advice was that she should apply.

Nothing wrong with Marks & Spencer, but she didn’t take his advice. Instead she went to art college and gained a degree in textile design. She didn’t become a textile designer, and eventually found her vocation in literature. But she was always clear and adamant that her experience of higher education - its opening of her horizons, its change of milieu, its new set of interests, friendships and contacts - was absolutely crucial to the person she developed into, and the novels she was eventually to write.

She was able to access higher education because she was eligible for a student grant from her local authority, and there were no tuition fees to pay. Had she been growing up today, with the same low income background, it is more than likely that she would have had to take the advice of the Careers Officer. There would never have been Small Island or The Long Song, or any other of her writings or her valuable contribution to our culture.

If we look at the statistics today for the number of Black British undergraduate students across all UK universities it stands at about 8%. But if we look at the top 25 ‘Russell Group’, the world class, research-intensive universities, that figure drops to 4%, and at many of those institutions, including Edinburgh, the figure will be even lower. How much talent are we losing? How many lives are blighted by an insidious race and class prejudice that seeps through our whole education system and discourages so many young people from even considering higher education? 

Andrea was always passionate about trying to create a more equal, and therefore more diverse society. She wanted the people who ‘run’ this country - the controllers and gate-keepers to the arts, sciences, law, politics, media and industry generally - to look more like the diverse mix of people who actually live in this country. 

Of itself the Andrea Levy Scholarship is there to help just one (sometimes two) talented young people a year to benefit from a top university education. So it changes individual lives for sure. But those young people will go out into their chosen fields well equipped now to grow and effect wider changes of their own. The scholarship and other initiatives like it change young people’s lives, but over time they can help to change society too. It’s important that we keep this scholarship funded and flourishing. If you can help, just click the donate button. Thank you.