Cake and eating it

People assumed that was where someone who looked like me belonged. I was at Oxford University, not Oxford Brookes – a distinction that didn’t bother me in the slightest per se. What bothered me was the assumption, and the reason behind it. Oxford Brookes is a former polytechnic, and although it has excellent ratings in some subjects, lacks the prestige of the University of Oxford, where I was studying. It does, however, have both better levels of diversity and less of the stigma of being a place of study reserved for the most privileged and elite.

That’s pretty good. To both complain about privilege and elite and yet also praise prestige.

55 thoughts on “Cake and eating it”

  1. If she doesn’t like it she is free to piss off back where she came from.

    Indeed since her name sounds African–haven’t read the article and am not going to: leftist mind-swill is not my choice before breakfast–since needs to be returned there double quick. Even if that’s not where she’s from.

  2. “leftist mind-swill is not my choice before breakfast–since needs to be returned there double quick.”

    It is part of my daily routine to check at breakfast the lefty outrage of the day.

  3. ” I went to Oxford. As a black female student, I found it alienating and elitist”

    Then leave the country you ingrate, there’s plenty of non-White ones to choose from.

  4. Three decades earlier, her mother wrote: “As a black female, I found Britain alienating and elitist. But it’s still better than Africa.”

  5. One of the most selective universities in the world elitist? Who knew…

    FFS. Back in my day, which is pushing 20 years ago now (scary) Oxford was already starting to bend over backwards to be “inclusive”, with a bit of affirmative action UK stylee (including some guy from a sink comp being allowed in on low grades to read classics – I don’t think he lasted the first year).

    The thing about Oxford, and I have very, very mixed feelings about my experiences there, is that a) it’s not a teaching university – you’re expected to teach 75% of it to yourself based on the lectures and their guidance, and b) it’s a massive high-level intellectual headfuck from 0th week to 9th week (the 8 week terms are an accounting myth). It’s full on (which is why they rarely let undergrads work part-time during termtime), you’re not allowed to live more than 10 miles from Carfax tower in termtime (to minimise commuting stress and time).

    It’s hard bloody work, and the dropout rate is surprisingly low based on massively rigorous selection. Make it more “inclusive” and you’re going to be admitting large numbers of undergrads ill equipped to cope. It is really not like other places (except Cambs, where the genuine geniuses go).

  6. The Pedant-General

    She has one – I think just one – hugely valid point. People assumed she meant OB rather than OU, most likely because of the colour of her skin.

    The problem is that, absent specific knowledge of a specific person, people make judgement calls based on the generally more likely case which turns out to be wrong in her case.

    The rest of it is pish. Only the top 1% academically able apply and only 10% of them will get a place. We are 3 SDs from the mean so minor population differences in aggregate can have vastly different outcomes here.

  7. Only the top 1% academically able apply and only 10% of them will get a place.

    Since we’re being pedantic, it’s roughly the top 2% who apply to Oxford (double that number if you want to consider Oxbridge) and 15% of those will gain an undergraduate place.

    Re the actual article: double points for top humblebragging.

  8. It probably wasn’t the colour of her skin but her voice and words since the reaction “Oxford Brookes” came when she spoke to people.

    Elitist, certainly, because it selects on perceived ability but why did she find that alienating if she was part of the elite? Perhaps she couldn’t cope with no longer being the star pupil at her school, with having to recognise there were other students as clever as her and even some cleverer?

  9. @abacab

    “It is really not like other places (except Cambs, where the genuine geniuses go).”

    That’s very kind of you.

    I declined my place at Cambridge, for reasons that tie in with those of the author of the linked article.

    I went there for my interviews, and was parked in the JCR with some first years who were reading English. Trying to make conversation, they started talking about poetry, and I was reading Dickinson at the time. They’d never heard of her.

    They found out I was from a state school, and the adjoin group of med students started asking if I was there because of sports. Apparently state school kids reading my subject were most often grandfathered in for sporting ability.

    I was horribly patronised for a bit, then went off, did my interviews and was eventually offered a place at Corpus Christi, reading my desired subject.

    When I got my results, I had to choose between three years of that, or something else entirely. I picked the something else.

    No biggie- but I do have a bit of empathy for the situation she finds herself in.

    But is it something somebody ‘needs to do something about’? I doubt it.

    I’m a white, middle class male- and I got stick. Sounds pretty equal opportunities to me.

  10. Impressive – she complains that Oxford is privileged, and simultaneously complains that people don’t acknowledge her privileged status.

  11. The Pedant-General,

    Is it possible that they judged her on something else?

    See, from my perspective I see a woman who went to an ‘elite’ university who is now producing boring, predictable boilerplate Guardian shit. If it’s so elite, why is this the end result?

    I meet people all the time who I am surprised at when they tell me they went to university. They don’t remind me of the intellectually curious people I met 30 years ago. The expansion of the sector created that. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if lots of even Oxford and Cambridge, at the lesser colleges, is like this.

  12. Funny story, though- and perhaps indicative of class differences in the 1990’s:

    During the interviews day, I ambled outside for a fag, and got chatting to a med student who was a decent chap.

    He told me about a test that he’d been given during the his (just finished).

    The prof gave him an ECG readout and asked him to identify the problem.

    He spotted that the heart was in a state of shock, and told the prof this.
    The prof asked him for three reasons why it might be.
    The lad responded giving a heart attack, stroke, or blow to the chest as reasons why that would have happened.
    The prof asked him if he could think of another, and stating that if he could, his offer to study medicine at Cambs would be unconditional.
    Try as he might, this chap couldn’t come up with one.
    The prof commiserated with him, and swore him to secrecy, before explaining that the reason he was looking for was ‘a bacterial infection in the blood taking up residence in the heart, leading to septic shock’.

    We finished smoking, he departed and I hung around waiting for my interview.

    Anyway, after another few hours of having the piss taken out of me for reading a thickies subject, an interview with my potential prof and then more piss taking for being common and attending a state school from the posh kids, I’m still killing time in the JCR waiting to leave to catch my train back to proleville.

    The posh med students, having tired of keeping the peasantry down are now discussing their interviews (all concluded). They are comparing notes on the ECG test- none of them got the fourth reason, and no free passes into Cambridge to read medicine had therefore been doled out.

    Their discussion was concluding with “yah yah yah- no- wish I could have gotten it” ‘s and “Really unfair of him to pop something that wasn’t covered off in the prep” ‘s and so forth, when I leant in and said- “I think you’ll find it’s a bacterial infection in the blood taking up residence in the heart, leading to septic shock’.

    I picked up my bag, and strolled out.

  13. Yes, humblebragging par excellence with the usual Guardian Lefty whinge thrown in.

    She is incredibly privileged but still finds something to whine about.

  14. “To both complain about privilege and elite and yet also praise prestige.” Gordon Brown used to be masterly at that. He’d attended a top state school where he was in an accelerated stream; he managed to boast about that while complaining about the harm it did him. Yet he’d probably had a schooling that only a half dozen schools in the country would have bettered.

  15. @John Square: Corpus yarn from decades ago.

    Undergraduate: We (two supervision partners) are the only state school boys among the freshman Natural Scientists at Corpus.

    Me: Why did you choose Corpus?

    Him: Because my father went there.

    Me, turning to the other lad: And why did you choose Corpus?

    Him: My father went there too.

    Me: Howls of laughter.

    The problem is, or was, that applicants who know nothing about the system, and whose school teachers aren’t prepared to help them, would have difficulty in guessing which colleges might not suit them. So my advice is simplicity itself: get off your fucking knees. They offer you a place? Take it, you chump. If you don’t like it clear off elsewhere after first year. “Elsewhere” will be gagging to accept you and offer you a year’s academic credit.

  16. Oxford is full of people who don’t go there to learn about how to interact with people but rather to reinforce their narrow stereotypes?

    Incredible!

    Basing assumptions on skin colour is almost universal behaviour, and the only issue I am really totally alongside the shouty left brigade with. Because white Europeans (and poorly-assimilated non-Europeans) haven’t a fucking clue and never will. This is the one thing you really can never get if you are white in Europe, even if you personally are the most colourblind person in the world. And the comments show there really is no point in trying to explain it.

    If your culture deviates from your skin colour, all people of all colours will draw the same wrong conclusions about you before you have even opened your mouth. Fortunately, it’s irritating at best, but it gets really tedious living with the same unnecessary irritation all the time.

    You wanted assimilation, you got it, but that’s no longer good enough for you. We have to be eternally grateful as well.

  17. How long are you at Oxford University before they teach you not to give a shit about what other people think?

  18. You wanted assimilation, you got it, but that’s no longer good enough for you. We have to be eternally grateful as well.

    No, we want “you” to stop fucking whining about every tiny thing even when you have become one of the most privileged people in the entire country.

  19. Bollocks Biggie.
    Go to China –perhaps the cities have changed now but was the time you would be stared at, discussed by the crowd–to your face–and generally treated like a talking horse.

    Any minority showing up almost anywhere may or may not get the same treatment but don’t come with the “extra-specially wicked white people ” crap.

    And as for “assimilation” I –and many millions of others like Jack (Nicholson in the 1989 Batman movie) “didn’t ask”. And couldn’t care less. So long as they aren’t arriving/breeding in takeover numbers. If the “assimilated” want to show their gratitude buggering off back home would be the best and preferred way.

  20. @Tim Newman

    Probably. With hindsight I sometimes wish I’d not gone. It was a mixed experience, but caused me to meet my wife and indirectly introduced me to Switzerland, so I recognise its contribution to getting me where I am today.

  21. Rob,

    Exactly. The likes of the Guardian stereotype everyone. Vote Brexit? Racist. Vote Trump? Racist. Tory? Racist and evil. Thatcherite? Racist, sexist, baby-eating evil.

    Then they print an article where someone bemoans a stupid stereotype about being good at dancing. Which probably happened once.

    I work with a black guy. Rare in software. He’s very good. And I know that if someone said something stupid like that, he’d manage it. He’d probably ignore it because he’s not an ultra-sensitive snowflake.

  22. @Ecks
    “Go to China –perhaps the cities have changed now but was the time you would be stared at, discussed by the crowd–to your face–and generally treated like a talking horse.”

    My experience exactly. I was mates with a similarly lofty (6’7″) black American. Everywhere we went crowds of people goggling at us like we were from Mars.

    Which, in context, we sort of were.

  23. I am a more recent Cambridge grad. It sounds like it has changed a fair amount since the 90s. There are still the old boys/ public school-esque societies but I only knew of a handful by name and never met anyone who was a member. Was never entirely sure how they operated and they seemed overall rather insignificant. Otherwise, coming from a state school, I encountered zero snobbery (apart from reverse snobbery from the very well-off grammar school kids to these imaginary public school caricatured bogey-men who never seemed to actually exist)

    The place is not the “free entry into the city” that it was 30-40 years ago. And I wouldn’t say intellectually there are significant noticeable differences between Oxbridge and other Russell Group or similar uni grads. I enjoyed my time but if you didn’t go then you didn’t miss out.

  24. and indirectly introduced me to Switzerland

    You poor bastard. I inadvertently ran a red light in Lausanne last week, and am looking forward to my CHF 250 fine. The junction was as confusing a mess of white lines, lights, and – evidently – cameras as I’ve ever encountered. Grrrr.

  25. @Tim Newman – fingers crossed it’s *only* a 250.- fine. It can be a criminal record too……… grrrrrrrrr… File under “stuff about Switzerland that’s pretty sucky”.

    BTW next time you’re down here, give me a shout. What’s the best way to contact you?

  26. I was at Oxford University, not Oxford Brookes – a distinction that didn’t bother me in the slightest per se.

    I bet it did, otherwise why choose Oxford over Oxford Brookes?

  27. @ Rob
    The distinction *would* have worried me a lot (although it didn’t because Brookes didn’t exist 50 years ago) because I actually wanted to learn stuff while I was there.

  28. @ Mal Reynolds
    Oxbridge still has the one-to-one tutorials – they are generally one-to-many in other Russell group unis. #1 son had his Oxford application torpedoed by his junior chemistry master who didn’t like him so forecast a grade C in ‘A’ level (one hour a week tutoring for one term by a friend from my atgletics club and he got an ‘A’) – so he went to Durham which doesn’t have one-to-one tutorials, rather than waste a year and reapply at 18.

  29. It can be a criminal record too

    Yeah, I’m hoping that my being in a French car means it’ll only be a fine. Not sure the French authorities are much interested in doing anything other than passing on fines for speeding offences. I guess we’ll see.

  30. @John77 – it’s normally 1:2 tutorials. I ended up with a bunch 1:1 since my tute partner dropped from Engineering back to Engineering, Economics and Management.

  31. @ abacab
    It was 1:1 for my group – except for one term when two of us shared a tutorial (the others still had 1:1) for applied maths and I was able to skive some weeks. The next year the new Applied Maths tutor made me catch up.

  32. Afua’s a bright young thing, did what she needed to do to get published, i hope that’s not all the guardian expects of her. If she’s really bright though she won’t rely on that shtick for long.

  33. Standards are falling at Oxford, as at all universities.

    I know a recent finalist in Greats (classics) whose basic Latin was worse than my schoolboy Latin.

    She walked out of one paper claiming she was unwell. She wasn’t: she couldn’t answer the questions. Her mother told me so.

    Yet she got a 2:1, which is extraordinary!!!

    I left Oxford in 1979. I loved every minute if my time there. The intellectual stimulation and hunger for knowledge was intoxicating…I became fascinated by the foundations of mathematics….Godel’s theorem and much more…

  34. Bloke in Costa Rica

    I got an offer from Corpus Cambridge. I chose Imperial instead because at that point it had a better reputation for physics (still does, by a nose, I think). We had a statistically significant over-representation of public school people (40% or so), but there was no snobbery or chips-on-shoulders that I could detect. This was nigh-on 30 years ago.

  35. “I was too dense to go to Oxbridge anyway.”

    Oh come on!!!? That’s not true, TimN. When I’m looking for considered comment, I go to your splendid blog.

    And Manchester was always better for engineering than Oxford. If I may say so, Tim, your ‘problem’ is that your talents straddle the sciences and the arts. You can write beautifully and to the point, while offering scientific analysis and engineering experience. Very few people have that. Find your niche??

  36. As advice, don’t do engineering journalism. Tech journalism (in which I include engineering) or trade journalism always has paid better than general media, except for the very stars, but it’s still less well paid than engineering.

  37. Theo,

    Have you read “Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” ?

    An astonishing book which captivated me for it’s love of maths, as well as it’s light touch concerning some heavyweight philosophical concepts.

    I felt depressed last summer on going back to Dublin and finding out that SJWs seem to have infested TCD.

    There seems to be a move now to promote ‘social justice’ and ‘equality’ above learning a la American universities.

    Sad really, I had hoped the Irish had more common sense than that…

  38. And Manchester was always better for engineering than Oxford.

    My brother read Engineering Science at Oxford (this was early 70s, so things may well have changed) – it was a very theoretical and general course, so if you had a specific engineering specialism in mind (chemical, electrical, whatever) you could certainly find ‘better’ courses elsewhere.

    Similarly, there’s no ‘Law’ degree at Oxford, only ‘Jurisprudence’ – so, although the course is very prestigious, it wasn’t specific enough to gain you an exemption from the first year of your articles. (I understand this has changed in the last 40 years!)

  39. In English law, it might well be a good thing to have a grounding in jurisprudence. However, having learned that George Carman got an Oxford First at Balliol, I change my mind. Carman did more to convince me that successful lawyers are unprincipled people without knowledge of their parentage than any other shyster lawyer. Are there stats on how many crooks he successfully defended, or innocent people banged up because of him?

  40. Theophrastus,

    You know how when there’s a bubble, you get certain feelings? It’s more than measurable data, it’s just lots of anecdotes that pull in the same direction.

    I’ve seen photography degree portfolios that wouldn’t get into the end of year show of a camera club. Why can’t comp sci graduates pass a simple programming test? I mean, stuff 14 year olds in bedrooms can do after a few weeks.

    It’s becoming like Fannie Mae. People are doing degrees who shouldn’t be. Not good enough for the subject. But universities lose money if they kick students out. So, they make courses easier so that people pass. Not all. Comp sci at Cambridge or Bristol are going to be fine. But Neasden University?

    And at the other end, employers hire graduates because of CYA “she seemed like she’d be good, she had a degree” or some spurious thinking about work ethic.

    But my guess – within 20 years there’s going to be a crash. Next generation of management will know it’s bollocks. Won’t put much value in crap degrees.

  41. But my guess – within 20 years there’s going to be a crash. Next generation of management will know it’s bollocks. Won’t put much value in crap degrees.

    Having a degree from Oxbridge was a marker* for being in the top percentile of intelligence (defined as ability to pass A-level exams). A degree from a Russell Group uni, probably top decile. The proportion of such graduates haven’t changed very much, so the correlation still holds.

    Photography from Neasden U? Not so much.

    * far from perfect, but still useful as an initial filter when sorting through CVs

  42. Chris Miller,

    I’m not knocking all degrees. Far from it.

    But even Oxford. If they do a shit course in photography, who is going to know or care? Sure, it’ll do long term brand damage when people twig they’re doing shit degrees, but by then, they’d have had nice pay rises and pensions.

    Oxford colleges have given jobs to the likes of Rusbridger and Will Hutton. How much do you trust their ability/honesty?

  43. @ BiW
    Not *my* college.
    Someone has pointed out, on another thread, that the main job of “Head of House” is, *now*, to raise money from alumni, alumnae and others. So a high-profile bullshitter is assumed to be an asset in order to attract money from “others”.
    Alumni and alumnae will donate in proportion to their spare cash and their enjoyment of the college while “up”. Over 30% of alumni who are not busily paying off student loans (and about 20% of those who are) from my college donate each year (so more in total) in order that the college can subsidise current undergraduates to the tune of 50% of their tuition and living costs.
    Fellows of Hertford – a less intellectual college – presumably thought that Will Hutton would appeal to the minority of lefties with more money than sense while they had little hope of getting money from the sensible rich who would be more likely to donate to the better-run colleges or to university projects.
    LMH may have thought that the Grauniad’s militant feminism would appeal to rich American women.
    There are over 40 Oxford Colleges: 5% have selected lefty bullshitters in order to appeal to the lefty millionaires – that’s pretty much what a market economy would recommend.
    I have zilch trust in Will’s ability or Rusbridger’s honesty, but I do have a lot of trust in my Head of House’s ability and honesty having talked to him on a few occasions (he admitted his ignorance of something concerning one of my contemporary mathematicians).

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