Oxbridge and widening participation

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?

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6 Responses to Oxbridge and widening participation

  1. The Razzler says:

    I agree. It’s just putting the blame onto Oxbridge – when really we should be looking at our state school system. We need to not only make our teenagers capable of doing well at the elite institutions, we also need to enable them to believe that they are capable.

  2. Mr E says:

    I’m inclined to agree. Also from a bog-standard comprehensive in (apparently) one of the poorest working-class parts of London, I’ll be heading to an Oxbridge college this October. I can’t wait, and I feel proud to have been able to buck the trend. But it’s lucky for me that I was positively encouraged to apply – a year ago I was determined NOT to even try, as I had the perception of snobbery and felt I wasn’t good enough.

    I do think that it’s the school’s duty to do its best by pupils looking to apply to university, and to encourage Oxbridge applications if candidates are good enough. However, by the same token I’d hate to see too many kids spurred to apply and be disappointed. There are some things that need to change within the Oxbridge application process simply to level the playing field. Speaking to some of my fellow applicants, I was quite horrified to find that some of them had been coached by a ‘professional’ interviewer, paid for by their school!

    I don’t have any solutions, but there must be something that can be done to both encourage greater participation by those demographics (unfairly) unrepresented and also retain the heritage and rigour that Oxbridge is famed for.

  3. reteacher says:

    Which college did you go to? I’m going to be at LMH.

    As for the article, I agree with you. Why should Oxbridge dumb down? Surely we have a duty to raise the standards of state education to match those expected of Oxbridge applicants?

  4. missbhave says:

    I went to Pembroke, very small, in the shadow of Christchurch – LMH seems to be a lovely college though.

  5. reteacher says:

    I was keen on Pembroke, but they already had their allotted number of PGCE students.

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