In light of a recent Guardian article, which criticises Oxford and Cambridge’s low intake of state school pupils, it is easy to begin shouting about how Oxford is a disgraceful elitist institution that enables the rich/poor divide, forcing the have-nots to have less and the haves to have more, leading to oppression of minorities and a fascistic state.
Some of this is partly true. Oxford is an elitist institution in that it is a meritocracy. It accepts applicants with the highest grades, best interview skills and those who are the best at expressing themselves in academic situations. It caters for people with a specific interest in immersing themselves fully in their chosen subject for the years of their degree, people who want to live and breathe the dust that rises off the bookshelves at 5am, as they feverishly haunt the libraries. These qualities are often present in well-educated people, and unfortunately, the best education comes from private schools.
Privilege is often an elephant in the room. The privileged try to rationalise their position by saying “I worked hard for my rewards, you cannot take my achievements away from me!” and while that may be true to an extent, the element of luck is also an extremely big factor. Without trying to generalise; parents who are struggling to pay bills are more likely to prioritise basic things needed for survival rather than luxuries, like private education, tutors and books.
This leads to a disparity in primary and secondary education quality from person-to-person and this in turn ends up with students having different aspirations and priorities. A child who has been at a highly academic private school will have been told from the moment they arrive that they are 100% capable of A*s and Oxbridge, and a dedicated team of teachers, who are passionate about their work will do everything in their power to help them obtain their goals. A child at an underfunded state school may be told that they can hope for Ds, Cs and Bs at best and they may end up not considering going to any university, let alone Oxbridge.
This system cannot be described as fair. It is biased in favour of people with the time and money available to invest in their child’s education and prevents a lot of disadvantaged children from having the option of going down an academic route. However, I would argue that we cannot blame Oxbridge for this. Oxbridge selects the candidates it wants, and many (though not all) of these candidates are from privileged backgrounds. What needs to change is the quality of education available to people with less money. Why should a good education be a luxury?
What should not change is Oxbridge’s academic requirements. Don’t force them to take more state school pupils ONLY for the sake of increasing diversity, instead invest more money in the state school system to improve education universally.