Oliver Jackson, a current student at Christ's College, Cambridge, considers whether Britain's two most prominent educational establishments can be said to have failed the country.
How has it come to this? Our current prime minister, his Chancellor, the deputy prime minister, the leader of the opposition, his Shadow Chancellor, and just under a third of all British MPs all went to the same two universities, known ubiquitously as Oxbridge. Outside the political world, the Oxbridge attendance of figures prominent enough in public life to have their birthdays recorded by national newspapers stands at 31%. To have gone to Oxbridge is to be superficially perceived as part of the elite - and everybody hates an elite.
These figures show that, for those who would propose this motion, Oxbridge has failed Britain because too many of its alumni have gone on to be successful. Simplistic, and yet this argument stands on a wider problem in British society today. Social mobility, a phrase barely heard outside of a sociology lecture theatre not a few decades ago, has now become the watchword of successive governmental policies. The term Oxbridge now carries with it connotations of class, privilege and exclusivity, and has come to mean much more than the actual universities it appears to represent, who merely pick the best applicants they can (like every other university in the country) and educate them over the course of a typically three-year degree. This attitude is the modern incarnation of a centuries old British tradition of class, and retards progression to a purely meritocratic society by actively discouraging the less fortunate from realising their full potential.
Oxbridge, therefore, has failed Britain because it keeps us shackled to a history of societal division which sits awkwardly next to our modern ideals of fairness and equality of opportunity. In many ways whether this is the truth or not is irrelevant if, as now, the Oxbridge myth still holds sway on popular opinion. The best way to combat this attitude is to improve provisions for the less fortunate and encourage them to aspire to better, whether that be by applying to Oxbridge or otherwise. Over the last few years these measures have been adopted with ever-increasing fervour - one only needs to look at Oxbridge's elaborate access initiatives or the wealth of trusts provided by the government and numerous charities for ambitious youngsters of little means. But these are projects whose aims will only be realised in the future when their beneficiaries come of working age. For the current crop it is too late, and so the media management of the Oxbridge illusion will no doubt continue unabated. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge cannot be said to have failed Britain by providing it with a significant proportion of its successful citizens, but the public's perception of Oxbridge has failed Britain by discouraging social mobility and perpetuating the obsession with class that still dominates our society.
Let us hope that will change.
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