Previously known as Libdemchild

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Why I didn't apply to Oxbridge

Oxford and Cambridge are always viewed as the ideal English universities. Witness how every time someone mentions that they attended or have applied to study there inevitably the response is always a "wow".  I was in thrall too and had always wanted to go to Cambridge. That all changed a year ago.  
After attending an open day at Cambridge I was left with a distinct impression that it was just the epitome of white privilege and middle-class snobbery.  Every other university open day I had attended had focused on what the university could offer students with a list of reasons of why students ought to choose to study there.

Quite the opposite at Cambridge. The message was how hard it would be to get a place and the requirements were stringent and inflexible. There was no proper tour of the campus, only a talk on what I needed to do to increase my chances of securing a place and nearly everyone was white.

At the end of the open day talk, I was quite certain that I did not want to apply, let alone go there if offered a place. I was extremely worried about what my parents would say because, it seems as if any way, every parent wants their child to go to Oxbridge.  I had received all As and A*s in my GCSEs and was predicted the same at A-level and I knew that, because of this, it was automatically assumed by my parents and wider family that Cambridge would be the university I would try hardest to get into.  However, my mother who had accompanied me immediately agreed with my thoughts. As an Indian woman, she felt distinctly out of place. For me, that just confirmed my feelings about the day. 

Despite this, I did not want to make assumptions based off of one day and I went home to take a better look at the course that I wanted to apply to, which was history and politics. I found that the first year would consist of these modules: 

"In Year 1, all students take Evidence and Argument (a paper unique to this course that brings together key thinking from both disciplines); The Modern State and its Alternatives; and International Conflict, Order and Justice.
Your fourth paper is chosen from the following:
  • British Political History 1688-1886
  • British Political History Since 1880
  • European History 1715-1890
  • European History Since 1890" 
It could be argued that this is just building a foundational knowledge of the issues that affect history and politics in Britain but, to me, the Eurocentric focus of this course was just indicative of the elitist British culture that seems to entrench the culture of Oxbridge. I thought this was especially true when I compared it to the Law with History course that I was applying to at Queen Mary that included these modules: 
Race in the United States: Slavery To Civil Rights
  • Islam and the West in the Middle Ages
  • The World that Jane Austen Knew: Women, Gender and Culture in England 

I know that most people already know that Oxbridge and Cambridge are typically thought of as white-dominated elitist institutions but there seems to be an increasing view that the application process and entry into these universities is based solely on merit rather than other factors.

Here is an interesting comparative anecdote. Young people, I speak to generally tend to blame on themselves when they don't get into their university of choice. By contrast, I spoke to several Asian girls at open days and every single one of them had failed to secure a place at Oxbridge. 

The fact that the issue of race and class being a factor in university places isn't made more of worried me until this article  on BBC news entitled "Oxford uncovered: More elitist than we thought":
"Nationally about 31% of people are in the top two social income groups. They are the doctors, the lawyers, the senior managers.The data reveals these top two social classes cleaned up in terms of places, with their share of offers rising from 79% to 81% between 2010 and 2015."
It isn't the fact that Oxbridge consists mainly of the top social classes that shocked me, that would be unsurprising to anyone, but that the dominance of these groups in these universities is actually growing.  This clear class divide in Oxbridge also obviously include a racial divide as class and race intersect, this is shown below. Our higher education is enhancing racial and class divides and entry into Oxbridge should no longer be held up as the greatest thing a young person can accomplish. 

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Photo from channel 4 shows the elitism of Cambridge 

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Photo from Times higher education shows that, unsurprisingly, this elitism encompasses race 

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