In the last week, there has been a swarm of publicity regarding the report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. Oxford’s most elitist colleges, containing the smallest number of state school students, have been openly named and shamed.
Although a outreach has improved in the last decade, with more than 3,000 outreach events with 72% of all sixth forms, certain colleges have failed to uphold what the university claims to be its inclusive ethos. In recent years, Oxford has expressed an interest in increasing access, but as some of the statistics from the report show, there are still massive disparities between colleges.
The worst three offenders:
1) Christ Church
The university website states that Oxford ‘wants the best students, from every kind of background’. Slightly in opposition to this stated aim, only 42.2% of Christ Church’s acceptances last year were those of state school students. You can picture the scene: as potential state school applicants visit Christ Church on an open day, the sprawling lawns and famous ‘Harry Potter’ hall appear to be the playground of the rich and elite. We can only blame the majestic architecture so far. We must probe deeper, to recognize the fulfilled entitlement of private school students, written into Oxford’s very own cobblestones. At the end of term, one can hear the rumble of a helicopter or two as Eton darlings return to their country homes. What we do not hear, however, is the silence of state school students who feel far too intimidated to apply in the first place.
The report also shared Trinity’s intake of state schooled undergraduates, being at 44.3%. This statistic appears to perfectly match the charmingly elitist aesthetic of the college. A potential applicant could visit Trinity any day during the holidays and be charmed by the £2 entry fee that is demanded of them. Perhaps Trinity have been inspired by the words of Fergie: ‘if you don’t have no money, take yo’ broke ass home’. The majestic gate stands as a metaphor for the college’s style, shutting out the majority of society upon the basis of economic status.
3) St Peter’s
A bit of a dark horse coming in at third, and the 4th most exclusive college across both Oxford and Cambridge, only 47.1% of the student body at Peter’s was educated at state school. Hidden down New Inn Hall street, the fact that Peter’s accepted more than half its applicants from independent schools slips by unnoticed.
However, the report also shared the best two Oxford colleges in terms of applicants:
72.7% of Mansfield’s successful applicants last year were state schooled. Mansfield’s website describes its own ‘personality’ as ‘unique’, and it certainly offers what most of Oxford’s other colleges cannot: a greater chance of equality and fairness. This achievement is slightly tempered by the tiny size of Mansfield in comparison to the larger, more famous, and more exclusive colleges. As long as Christ Church and Trinity persist with elitism, the achievement of a college that is not particularly well known is overshadowed.
After Mansfield, Wadham admitted the second largest number of state school applicants, at 69.4%. This is a predictable entry on the list: it ostensibly celebrates its left wing politics within an inclusive environment for students of all backgrounds, ethnicities and sexualities. The question is if the percentage is good enough. One’s perspective on the world outside can become slightly distorted inside the castle complex, as it can in all Oxford colleges. 30.6% of Wadham’s students remain privately educated. The fact that only a mere 13% of the UK attended private school for sixth-form appears to be forgotten.
A tiny sphere of private school privilege within society has been insidiously enlarged. This minority is infiltrated through the private school system into the greater structures of power in society; securing a place at one of the most prestigious and academic universities in the world, with ambitious and affluent careers often following an education at Oxford.
A cause of this inequality? The decision on admissions is divorced from the faculty for undergraduates, as well as the subject faculties. It is entirely made by the college, and this leaves room for potential bias. A college could desire a higher intake of privately educated students as richer alumni, along with their families, are more likely to donate to the college later in their careers.
As long as this peculiar selection process is continued and condoned, private school students will continue to fill places at Oxford. Meanwhile, both state school students and teachers will undergo a sense of inadequacy, spreading throughout the institutions which simply could never be ‘good enough’ for Oxford.
Without any ‘Oxbridge’ successes, state schools will not be motivated to improve their standards. The two universities remain the playground for private schools, and the notion that ‘private is better’ is perpetually fuelled.