Twenty-six-year old Damien Shannon is suing an Oxford college for rejecting his application for postgraduate study based on his inability to prove a background of wealth and snobbery. St Hugh's barred him from his initially offered place to study history because he wasn't born into a rich family that has £21,000 for fees and living costs ready to hand over.
The college claims it isn't discriminating against Shannon, but testing his financial health to ensure he'll be able to complete his studies without suffering anxiety or financial difficulties. How kind of Oxford to stop him gaining access to education because they're thinking of his health, and make way for those who are happy to show off the totals in daddy's bank account. It's no wonder we all look up to this institution; it's just so considerate.
It does not come as a surprise that the media has yet again picked up on Oxbridge prioritising wealthy, private school students, although it is refreshing that someone is taking action against the hierarchy. It is a shame, however, that he will risk becoming bankrupt if he loses the case. Not to worry Shannon, there's plenty more Russell Group universities that would accept you; and they'll base their decision solely on learning capacity, not your wallet.
I was interviewed by an Oxford college, before gladly accepting an offer to study at the University of Southampton, the top for my course after Oxbridge. Having achieved A*AA at A Level, I decided it would be a wasted opportunity not to apply to the institution regarded as one of the best in the world, so I packed my bags for a long weekend at Hertford College (which prides itself on the number of state school applicants it 'welcomes'). I was shown to my room, opposite the Bodleian library and adjacent to the Bridge of Sighs, and could not help but sense I was expected to feel honoured and indebted to the university for this privilege. I had to remind myself that I was there because I had achieved the grades through my own hard work, not because I'd won the lottery or Oxford felt like helping out charity (or perhaps it felt it was).
Immediately I learnt that I was among very few state school students, perhaps the only one with working-class parents, and that it was not going to be easy fitting in - even just for a few interview days.
The interviews and test I did were enjoyable, but what made me despise Oxford was the private school talk in the dining hall and a conversation I overheard between students already enrolled. Nothing made me more uncomfortable and unwelcome than not being able to join in on conversations about skiing trips, second houses in Italy, money-related banter and hearing two students talking under their breath about how they can easily spot those which are the 'Oxford type.' I didn't underestimate that I was one of those they didn't think would suit the grandeur and snobbery of the college.
Shannon's case is outright discrimination, but it isn't shocking. I respect him for fighting their classist system, but I prefer to be part of a university that chose me based not on the contents of my bank account, but my mind. For an institution so rich in knowledge, it is very blind. Until wealth and class background cease to influence decisions made on the future of students who deserve the opportunity to put their intelligence to use and earn money to send the next generation to university, Oxford has a lot of work to do.
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