Oxford or Cambridge - Which Is Better? Does It Matter?

10/04/2013 17:20 BST | Updated 10/06/2013 10:12 BST

Oxbridge, the portmanteau of the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge has for centuries, produced world-changing ideas and people that have gone on to mould the course of human history.

Oxford, the city of dreaming spires has bred 48 Nobel laureates, over 60 heads of state and government, 26 British prime ministers and the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, Dr. Seuss, Bill Clinton and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Not to be outdone, the quaint green landscapes of Cambridge have provided home to 89 Nobel laureates (a world record), over 40 heads of state and government, 14 British prime ministers and mammoths such as Isaac Newton, John Maynard Keynes and Charles Darwin.

Oxbridge being England's only universities up until the 19th Century has naturally cultivated one of the world's most famous rivalries. The question of which is the better institution is one that regularly surfaces amongst aspiring students and spectators alike. And because prospective undergraduates can only apply to one, not both, many fixate on the seemingly inconclusive and rather fatuous debate.

Having done my undergraduate degree at Oxford and now being a postgraduate at Cambridge, comparing the two appears to be the first question many people will ask me upon learning my educational background. Not that I mind being asked this but I seem to have scripted a standard answer, perhaps from the routine of it all and it goes something like this...

"Oxford is bigger and livelier, Cambridge is smaller and prettier. Academically, not much separates the two but Oxford is slightly more well known for politics and humanities, whereas Cambridge for science and engineering.

At any rate, they share many similarities. They both have legal deposit libraries, the same collegiate and teaching systems, are rich in tradition and own world-renowned printing houses, debating societies and boat clubs".

I always end by saying that it is somewhat awkward and difficult for someone in my position having done an undergraduate degree in one and now pursuing a postgraduate degree in the other, to make a fair comparison of the two universities.

I think it is fair to say that my response to this question has become almost mechanical with time because the truth is I do not know the answer and I honestly do not think it is a very important question, unless you're a prospective university student serious about applying to Oxbridge (in which case, you should always choose your course over the university any day, and this includes universities outside Oxbridge). I certainly feel that it isn't an important question during first introductions for it tells very little about me as a person anyway.

I appreciate that getting into Oxbridge is extremely competitive and is a 'feat' in its own right, but it really doesn't matter whether Oxford is better than Cambridge and it shouldn't matter whether we go to one or the other or indeed any other university - at least not to the extent that it defines our identity and that is all people see.

We sometimes see excellent students fall into the trap of indulging in their success of gaining entry into a prestigious university. Not that there is anything truly wrong with this but once in a while you do see someone get carried away and rely a lot on their alma mater to give them their identity and see them through life. This can be dangerous because the initiative for success is subconsciously made dormant. They often become too complacent because of the false safety blanket of their university affiliation and will subsequently lose the drive they once had and gain a selfish sense of entitlement.

We must not let this happen to us. The distinguished university we once affiliated with should never define us; it is we who must define ourselves. And in fact, it is the students that define the university anyway.

Let us not forget that in the grand scheme of things, university is not the end but preparation for the beginning.

So, does it really matter to us whether Oxford is better than Cambridge or vice versa? Does it really matter which university we end up going to, Oxbridge or not, and where it is in the university rankings?

Yes in a way but in essence, no. As Baz Luhrmann very wisely put it, "the race is long and, in the end, it is only with yourself".