Newcastle vs Northumbria: bit of banter or closeted classism?

Our writers discuss whether the Newcastle-Northumbria rivalry is a harmless joke or a symptom of classism.

multiple writers
28th October 2019


For many students at both Newcastle and Northumbria, attending a ‘Poly VS. Posh’ bar crawl is an annual tradition. Essentially, students from both universities are encouraged to attend the same event, where they wear t-shirts with slogans that ‘insult’ their ‘rival’ university, and visit various bars around the city.

On paper, this is a harmless joke, and might even be a fun opportunity for students to socialise with friends from another university, and exaggerate the ‘fun’ and ‘harmless’ rivalry between Newcastle and Northumbria. It’s easy to claim that the rivalry between the two universities is based on nothing more than academic standing, since Newcastle is a member of the prestigious Russell Group, whilst Northumbria is a former polytechnic college. However, I think we need to remember that this rivalry has other deeper, and generally more unpleasant, roots. At Northumbria, over 30% of students come from a household where the main breadwinner is from a working-class, manual occupation. At Newcastle, this figure falls to around 20%.

I think it’s time we faced up to the fact that the divide between Newcastle and Northumbria is less about who’s best at sport or has higher entry requirements, and more about whose students belong to a higher social class.
Like many Russell Group universities, Newcastle has faced criticism for admitting few working-class students. Its students are often stereotyped as snobbish, and walking around town sporting t-shirts baring the legendary ‘Your Dad Works For My Dad’ slogan hardly helps our case. However, the fault lies with Northumbria, too. I can think of several Newcastle students, myself included, who worked extremely hard to achieve the grades needed to study here, and have never stepped foot in a private school. Despite this, Northumbria students use Poly VS. Posh as an excuse to depict us as painfully out-of-touch and privileged, even wearing t-shirts that refer to us using the dreaded ‘C-bomb’.

"Newcastle has faced criticism for admitting few working-class students and wearing t-shirts saying ‘Your Dad Works For My Dad’ slogan hardly helps our case"

In 2019, I think it’s about time we accepted that both Newcastle and Northumbria have their strengths and weaknesses, and any university student should simply be proud to obtain a degree, regardless of which university gave them their certificate. Poly VS. Posh is simply an excuse for cynical bar-owners to make money by exploiting and exaggerating the perceived differences between the two universities.

Last but not least, it’s not even a particularly great night out. With over 2000 people attending, Poly VS. Posh is cramped, chaotic and over-priced. So, do yourself a favour, and find an event with a more tasteful dress-code.

Em Richardson


We all love a friendly rivalry. At its best, the competition between Newcastle and Northumbria can help students establish their identity, get stuck into sports matches and laugh at Facebook memes. But at its worst, the rivalry encourages ignorant and outright elitist attitudes on the part of Newcastle University students.
The culture of Newcastle vs Northumbria seemed a little odd to me when I first arrived here. I remember discovering the Poly vs Posh events – streams of students wearing “your dad works for my dad” t-shirts – and feeling uncomfortable. I guess I’d realised that a lot of people would be from wealthy families, but the idea of flaunting it on a shirt that wasn’t even particularly funny was a little weird to me.
Even still, I brushed the whole thing off as a joke, which is probably what many students participating in these events see it as. The tone changed, however, when I met people who believed that Northumbria students were stupid.

I’ve heard a privately educated person say, with no sense of irony, that there was “no point” in getting a degree from a former polytechnic. I’ve heard another, also from a wealthy background, saying in a derogatory way that they could tell someone was from Northumbria based on what clothes they wore and how they spoke.
I knew the idea of Russell Group superiority existed outside of university, but for some reason, I was surprised when it was actually expressed by students. I guess I expected people who were, in their own words, “educated”, to be aware enough to know that A-level results aren’t an irrefutable measure of intelligence and that their societal privilege, as well as their brains, allowed them to get into Newcastle Uni.

"Many people genuinely view the rivalry as being about intelligence rather than class"

The core of the issue is that, for many people, they genuinely view the rivalry as being about intelligence rather than class. But the idea that students at Newcastle are smarter than those at Northumbria is classist. It’s based on the assumption that everyone has the exact same life opportunities, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. It's not just a case of whether your parents send you to private school; some people have to work during A-levels; some people can’t take A-levels at all because they’re helping to support their families; some people suffer from mental health problems; some people grew up in areas where the schools weren’t as good. There are a million reasons why an incredibly intelligent person might not achieve what you consider to be acceptable results at school and either way it’s not any of your business.

To all the Freshers reading this: some of you may have had a huge amount of help getting here, and others may not have had any help at all. Either way you should be proud of yourself, but your pride should not be dependent on the idea that you’re better than Northumbria students, because let me tell you, you’re not. It doesn’t matter if you got three DDC in BTEC subjects or A*A*A* in STEM; if you honestly believe that going to a Russell Group makes you smarter than everyone else, you need to get a grip.

Molly Greeves

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