I went to an Oxbridge college myself for one year until I failed the exams and was booted out. Although I think there were things the college could have done to help me succeed, on the whole I know it was entirely my own fault that I didn’t manage to make it through. The university experience is what you make of it, I knew what I was signing up for when I applied (independent learning, limited contact time, no books written after 1900 but excellent academics and high expectations) and my failure was ultimately my fault. I never expected a university with that much history to change its time honoured and much loved traditions and teaching methods to suit my learning style.
I do think Oxbridge is too highly populated with privately schooled students and that there should be more of a balance, but I do not think that it is the responsibility of Oxbridge (beyond not discriminating in favour of privately educated teenagers) to increase its intake of comprehensive school pupils. I think it is the responsibility of schools, teachers and parents to show its top students that Oxbridge is not an unrealistic expectation for them. Oxbridge can’t undo eighteen years of socialisation and convince students that they are suddenly Oxbridge material, when for so long everyone has told them they aren’t. Of course private school pupils are better equipped for Oxbridge, they have always had small classes, been surrounded by other motivated pupils and have always been expected to achieve highly. We shouldn’t be asking Oxbridge to change to accommodate our state school pupils, we should be changing out state schooling so that our children have a better chance at top quality institutions. They certainly can’t change their admissions policy to favour state school kids, how insulting would that be?
This is something that really annoys me. I went to a comprehensive school and sixth form college, and very few of us applied to Oxbridge, and even fewer got in. I made it in because I adapted myself to their interview techniques and made a good impression. By doing this I gave them the idea that I would be suitable for their teaching style and therefore deserved my place. The interview is integral to their admissions procedure because they need to know that applicants will be able to handle the things about Oxbridge that make them the elite, meaning the one on one tutorials, the independant working and the high level of expectations.
A degree in an Oxbridge college is a unique experience, characterised by centuries of tradition and history. If Oxbridge takes the approach suggested by Blunkett and is brought ‘into the 21st century’ then it ceases to be Oxbridge at all, and what’s the point of going?