My word!

Oxford University’s cultural elitism has been exposed by this student campaign

How appalling. That an elite university is elitist!

The students must be terribly bright to have been able to work that out.

28 thoughts on “My word!”

  1. It’s as-I-see-it intersectionality again, isn’t it? Don’t dare claim that you are as oppressed as these other people (who I am not part of but I am oppressing you on behalf of their oppression by people other than you, possibly including me.)

    And ain’t I smug about it!

  2. Actually, I got that wrong.

    “Don’t dare claim that you are oppressed as these other people (who I am not part of but I am oppressing you on behalf of their oppression by people other than you, possibly including me) are more oppressed than I think you could ever be. Therefore you aren’t allowed to be oppressed at all.”

    Fixed.

  3. Let’s be honest, there are two types of elitism. The elitism that promotes elite people because they are elite. Good elitism.

    Then there’s the back-scratching, friend of a friend, get dim Tarquin through Oxbridge and plummy non-jobby at uncle’s company, or perhaps as Prime Minister. In other words, establishing and perpetuating an elite based on whose forbears were (deservingly or not) part of that elite. Bad elitism.

    And Oxford did, until very recently at least (probably still does to a greater extent than we know) practise a mixture of those two forms of elitism.

  4. “But these universities are bubbles, isolated from reality, in their own microcosm that reflects very little of the society beyond.”

    anyone else find it ironic that someone in the Guardian is writing that?

  5. “anyone else find it ironic that someone in the Guardian is writing that?”

    Better still, a professional fashion blogger is writing it! What kind of real world microcosm is that?

  6. There’s a striking feature of the charge, endlessly repeated, that Oxbridge admissions are all hopelessly biased by giving advantage to applicants from posh schools. In the only admissions interviews I took part in which there was visible bias, it was shown by my fellow interviewer who was keen to disadvantage people from any school except State comprehensives, that being his own background. In private he was quite frank about it.

    No explanation is ever given for why there should be a bias in favour of candidates from posh schools. It doubtless varies from one college to another, one discipline to another, and one generation to another, but most of my chums who used to do admissions interviews were, in so far as I knew their own schooling, former grammar school boys. I don’t see why it would be natural for them to favour candidates from the posh schools. Save for one notion; it’s just conceivable that they would be unconsciously biased in favour of people who have had a schooling as good as they had had themselves. In which case, given what damage the Forces of Progress have wrought on state education, they might incline to Public School products.

    Be that as it may, I’d like to see some reasoning, however feeble, as to why admissions tutors would favour Tim-nice-but-dim: it ain’t Harvard – at Oxbridge the admissions tutors are going to have to teach the students they admit. Why in God’s name would they look any further than the requirement that their students be bright, and enthusiastic about the subject?

  7. @dearieme
    There is of course another explanation.
    Oxbridge takes bright & potentially useful people from diverse backgrounds & turns them into a rather thick elite.
    I’m quite persuaded by that theory, looking at various high profile Oxbridge graduates.

  8. @ dearieme

    They didn’t choose me when I applied and, in retrospect, I don’t blame them. My application would have been as strong as anyone else’s, but my interview was pretty shoddy.. of course it was.. did my school prepare me for an interview? did it eck’.. it did nothing at all to encourage me to try and get there, or to help me. How do we think that compares to the kids applying from public and private schools?

    One or two astute comments on that Graun piece make the point that the constant portrayal of Oxbridge as a bastion of elitism which is closed to the common people is self-perpetuating. Bright kids from ordinary backgrounds are told that they’ll never get it.. wherever colour they are. So they are hugely disadvantaged when they sit down in front of that tutor who’s going to make the choice. He already knows that all the people he’s meting are smart (that’s what the application for is for), he’s choosing based on how they present themselves. The rich kids have been taught how to do that effectively, and so it’s no surprise that they’re the ones who get it.

  9. TTG: my daughter got no help from her private school before her Oxford admissions interview. She did, however, go to an Open Day with her mother, and there asked an admissions tutor how she could prepare for the interview. He recommended one book she should read. So she did.

    As in so much of this business, I ask for evidence. What evidence is there that a bunch of ex-grammar school boys favour Etonians? How do you know that all private schools intensively coach their pupils for Oxbridge admissions? It’s all bloody assertions.

    In my old department, a lot of the lecturers are now foreigners. When they act as admissions interviewers, why on earth would they give two hoots about anyone’s school? They are most unlikely to share the Englishman’s debilitating class consciousness and chip on the shoulder. “Ooh, it’s not for the likes of me”. Oh, fuck off! Get off your knees!

    Of course when I did admissions interviews, as the product of a Scottish rural academy I treated the educational background of the English applicants with an equality of contempt.

  10. @ BIG
    Forty years ago a majority of Oxford undergraduates came from grammar schools. The minority included Rhodes Scholars and other foreign students as well as those from public schools. A significant number (possibly even a majority) of the boys from public schools were those who had got scholarships to their schools – not very surprising when you consider that there were more scholarships to public schools than places at Oxford and Cambridge.
    There were protests when Charles was given a place at Trinity, Cambridge because his ‘A’ levels were only adequate rather than brilliant (I, personally, thought that a bit unfair: in view of the mess that politics had made of his education, he’d done pretty well to pass them at all). There were no duffers apart from the odd rugby or rowing blue.
    Try checking your facts before shooting your mouth off with what look like generalised insults.

  11. @ TTG
    In my day schools didn’t generally prepare kids for interviews (as I was awful at interviews I was lucky to be awarded a place before my interview). That could make a difference these days but the Oxbridge tutors make a conscious effort to compensate for the disadvantage that bright kids suffer at most state schools. Allegedly Durham has the highest proportion of public schoolboys.
    Trinity Cambridge was famous for not interviewing mathematicians so almost all the brightest of them, from Isaac Newton to Andrew Wiles, queued up to apply to Trinity.

  12. Bloke in Costa Rica

    My interview at Corpus was a doddle compared to my interview at Imperial: mostly gentle lobs by the Cambridge bloke whereas the IC guy wanted some real thinking (and calculation). I don’t know whether the fact my accent was the same as the Corpus man’s and very different from the IC man’s made any difference, but I know that Cambridge wanted AAA and IC offered BBC. IC was better for physics anyway, so I went to London.

  13. @ dearieme

    “What evidence is there that a bunch of ex-grammar school boys favour Etonians?”

    I’m not sure where I said they did.

    “How do you know that all private schools intensively coach their pupils for Oxbridge admissions? It’s all bloody assertions.”

    And I didn’t use the word ‘intensively’. All the people I know who were privately educated were given a bit of coaching if they were applying for Oxbridge. So were people who went to high-performing state schools. All I know from a personal perspective is that one practice interview (for example) would probably have helped.. so that the real one wasn’t the first time I’d ever experienced anything of that ilk. Maybe my parents should have helped out.. but they didn’t know anything about the process.

    “In my old department, a lot of the lecturers are now foreigners. When they act as admissions interviewers, why on earth would they give two hoots about anyone’s school?”

    The point I was making was that they probably didn’t, but that they, quite reasonably, may be more impressed by applicants who’s schools (or parents) have prepared them to be impressive.

    :They are most unlikely to share the Englishman’s debilitating class consciousness and chip on the shoulder. “Ooh, it’s not for the likes of me”. Oh, fuck off! Get off your knees!”

    And what I was getting at is that the ‘ooh it’s not for the likes of me’ attitude is ingrained in kids from ordinary backgrounds by the very people who then express outrage at the unfairness of it all.

    See also the outcry over how tuition fees mean that poor kids can’t afford to go to university. It’s bollocks. The loan system means that anyone can go, and they only pay back if they earn enough afterwards. The barrier is purely a mental one.. but it’s being reinforced by the Graun and their like so that it’s no wonder poorer kids are saying they’re less likely to apply. The champions of social mobility are the only ones shouting about how it doesn’t exist, and in doing so they’re the ones telling bright young poor kids that they’ll never amount to anything.

  14. The handful of Oxbridge dons with social aspirations (those that would like their college full of sons of Earls with stately homes they can get invited to) are not allowed anywhere near the admissions process.

    The “best” public schools don’t coach their kids for Oxbridge entrance exams, because their kids have spent their entire lives having intellectual/academic conversations with interested adults. That’s what you get at a good school or if you have interested parents (who talk to you about “stuff” and expose you to similar chats with their equally interested friends).

    However if you don’t come from background with these advantages then one would hope that if you were clever enough to reasonably apply to Oxbridge you could, you know, do some research on the internet.

    “I don’t know because we didn’t do it at school” is not often heard at Oxbridge.

  15. “the champions of social mobility are the only ones shouting about how it doesn’t exist, and in doing so they’re the ones telling bright young poor kids that they’ll never amount to anything.” All the more places for the children of the champions, then.

  16. ‘“I don’t know because we didn’t do it at school” is not often heard at Oxbridge.’ It is in admissions interviews, from the lads and lassies who will not be offered a place.

  17. “their kids have spent their entire lives having intellectual/academic conversations with interested adults”: that’s a crucial point. Some interviews give the distinct impression that the candidate has never had a serious discussion with an adult. It means the interviewer has to grope around to find a way of keeping the conversation going. On the other hand, when you see the candidate working out, before your very eyes, how to cope, you give him an awful lot of points.

    I made your point once to a colleague, in my own words, as “the candidate has never had a serious discussion with an adult”. He was puzzled and said something to the effect of “Has any eighteen year old? Had you at that age?” I realised that he must in his day have interviewed as one of those very bright candidates who learns during the interview how to respond. On the other hand, I also learnt that he had never reflected on the point. Rum, innit?

  18. @ Shinsei

    “The “best” public schools don’t coach their kids for Oxbridge entrance exams, because their kids have spent their entire lives having intellectual/academic conversations with interested adults.”

    Yes, I agree with that. Friends who are (or are intending to) privately educate their kids say it’s because those schools prepare kids to succeed in the adult world. They encourage thought and debate, competition and excellence. So yes, that environment is, in itself, great preparation for an Oxbridge interview. State schools? maybe not so much. They’re mainly staffed by ‘C-students’, and (understandably) teaching effort is focused on middle and lower-ability kids. Bright kids who breeze through the required standards are left alone. I went to a pretty good school, and was the top performer (by exam results) in most subjects.. but the only time our headmaster spoke to me was when I’d inadvertently disrupted an assembly. He knew all the bad kids, though.

    (This isn’t a ‘woe is me’ thing, btw. I’ve done fine. Nothing in my educational background has stunted my path through life. Windows of opportunity open all the time, and capable people who don’t jump through any of them have themselves to blame)

    “However if you don’t come from background with these advantages then one would hope that if you were clever enough to reasonably apply to Oxbridge you could, you know, do some research on the internet.”

    That’s fair (though when I was in that situation said Internet was barely invented.. let alone ubiquitous). Indeed, the internet provides much more than a research tool.. it means that those without the useful background/education can find smart people to engage with in ways that simply didn’t exist 20 years ago.

    @ dearieme

    ” All the more places for the children of the champions, then.”

    That’s an improvement on ‘the children of money’, but still not ideal. We want places for the champions themselves.

  19. “That’s an improvement on ‘the children of money’, but still not ideal. We want places for the champions themselves.”

    My remark was sarcastic, aimed at those “champions of social mobility”. They’ll try to frighten away children from uneducated families from applying to Oxbridge (and other good universities) thereby preserving more places for the children of … themselves.

  20. I agree that the internet has made the lot of the non-privileged interviewee easier.

    However even back in the 80s and 90s there was enough free literature from the universities that outlined the basic parameters of the interview.

    “We don’t mind what you wear but most other applicants will be wearing jacket & tie, school uniform so if you don’t want to feel uncomfortable…..”

    “If you are applying for a place to read English Literature the interviewers will expect you to have read more Thomas Hardy than the Far From the Madding Crowd on the A level syllabus…..”

    “Don’t try and pretend knowledge that you don’t have. Your “I’m a big fan of pre-Raphaelite painting” will be found out quickly if false.”

    And most importantly:

    “We aren’t trying to catch you out. We are looking for intelligent interested students that we will enjoy teaching for three years.”

    (…and if your pater is a Duke or a Russian oligarch with an agreeable Swiss ski chalet then so much the better….).

  21. I don’t care for the demotic dumbing down of “students that we will …”: ‘whom’, you bastards, ‘whom’.

  22. Looking back over the comments re: Oxbridge interviews, Hasn’t the plot been lost somewhere?
    Sitting on one side are people who are being paid a considerable amount of money to provide education. Sitting the other side are people who will be paying a considerable amount of money to be educated. And the former are interviewing the latter? Why?

  23. @ bis
    Because my old college subsidises its students by more than even the richest of them have to pay. Nice lad ‘phoned me up earlier with an update and mentioned apropos of the tangent onto which I had diverted that the average subsidy is £7,000 per student per year.
    No, we have Sitting on one side are people who are PAYING a considerable amount of money to provide education.Sitting the other side are people who will be paying a MUCH SMALLER amount of money to be educated.

  24. A short answer to all this: the Bullingdon Club, an elite institution so thick even “arch-snob” Evelyn Waugh (who wrote some good novels you know) looked down on it but which now runs the country.

  25. I fondly suppose that Oxbridge admissions tutors are desperate that the next person through the door is common as muck, got purple hair, pieces of steel in her face, a chippy attitude and is the sharpest thing they’ve interviewed all day.

    Perhaps it just doesn’t happen all that much.

  26. sackcloth and ashes

    Oxford did have a habit of admitting students on the basis of their family background and social cache, rather than their academic ability and intelligence.

    For example, in 1966 St Anne’s accepted a student who had failed the 11 Plus, and also had only one A level. But daddy was a big name in the media, and her grandfather was a famous academic with the LSE. So she got her place.

    She only lasted 18 months before she dropped out.

    I wonder what became of her?

    http://www.theguardian.com/profile/pollytoynbee

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