Educated opinion – Queens University, Belfast

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The Independent Online

The latest instalment in our “Educated opinion” series: a graduate from Queens University, Belfast, describes what life is like in the friendly and beautiful surroundings

If you are from Northern Ireland then you’ll probably know all about Queens University, Belfast; for over 150 years the institution has been making its own indelible mark on the province’s cultural psyche. It has been the higher education gateway for many of Northern Ireland’s most celebrated individuals and its campus even appears on the £5 note.

However, outside of Northern Ireland, Queens has remained something of a secret – until recently. Over the last 10 years the institution has seen a dramatic growth in the numbers of students enrolling from England, Scotland and Wales; approximately 500 students from Great Britain are currently attending Queens.

What is it that attracts students to up sticks and move to Belfast? For Molly Abraham, 23, from Cambridgeshire, it was the idea of discovering somewhere new. “Going to a university away from home appealed to my sense of adventure,” says the social anthropology graduate. “I applied for Edinburgh and Cardiff as well but decided on Belfast after coming to visit. It was one of those stunningly beautiful days – the buildings and everything were really impressive.”

Charlotte Moughan, also 20, from Luton, is forthright as to how she ended up in Belfast: “Mostly I ended up at Queens through chance and ignorance! I was going to take a year out but after getting my results decided to go to university. I studied chemistry and looked at the league tables for the subject – Queens was fifth.”

There is a further advantage to Belfast that would be obvious to those from large cities such as London or Manchester – it is incredibly small. So, as a student, it is possible to walk pretty much anywhere you need to go, saving on travel costs. This was a big factor for Joe Todd, a 22-year-old from London. “I wanted a change,” says the history graduate. “London was so big and taking trains everywhere was a hassle. Belfast is small, there’s a quieter pace of life and it’s friendlier. The social aspect is great as well – the pubs and clubs are great craic!”

One particular and peculiar downside that Queens does have is its weekend nightlife: due to the high rate of Northern Irish students and the province’s small size, most students flock home at weekends rendering the university a virtual ghost town.

“God I hated it,” says Abraham. “I didn’t know it was going to happen and it was so strange! However, once you get used to that the banter at Queens generally is brilliant – the university is well worth a look.”