Patricia Nicol, author, shares a selection of the top books on: Universities

  • Patricia Nicol hopes that this year’s students will settle into university life. 
  • Novel such as Brideshead Revisited highlight that university should be exciting 
  • David Lodge’s Changing Places is a funny novel about academics’ lives  










Now that Freshers’ weeks are a blurry memory, I do hope this year’s intake of students is settling down to some sort of normal university life.

You are taught in school that university is the reward for hard work. It will allow you to study a career or a subject you love with like-minded peers. It is expected that it will be enjoyable.

But fun did not seem most students’ foremost experience of the past academic year. Stories of children who just returned from school were told about being sent to residential schools with limited food supplies. At many places, the provision of online lecturing sounded dire for £9,000-a-year fees.

The whole world was wrong-footed in Covid’s wake, and some universities have done a better job than others. My relatives who joined last autumn as freshers, hoping to have a different experience, are not regretting it. It’s better than a year at home waiting for adult life to start.

David Lodge¿s Changing Places (pictured) is among the funny novels about academics' lives

Patricia Nichol picks out a selection of the best books on university – including Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (pictured left) and David Lodge’s Changing Places (pictured right) 

Novels such as Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and Sally Rooney’s Normal People highlight how university should be an exciting time.

Snowflake by Irish writer Louise Nealon contains a funny but poignant description of a student, Debbie, commuting from her family farm to registration day at Trinity College, Dublin, and feeling a total misfit — ‘I am wearing one of my best pairs of jeans and one of Billy’s check shirts with the cuffs rolled up. I look like I’m going out to dig potatoes.’

Behind the scenes, there are untold numbers of staff. Laurie, the troubled narrator of Jenn Ashworth’s memorable novel Ghosted, works as a cleaner at a campus university, ‘always a strange world of its own’.

Funny novels about academics’ lives include the classic Lucky Jim and David Lodge’s Changing Places. In Luke Kennard’s The Answer To Everything, artist and serial almost-adulterer Elliott teaches at a university, though lack of application means he is barely clinging on.

For this year’s intake, who have already suffered two years of school disruption, here’s hoping their time at university runs smoothly.

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