VERSA | The ethical grey areas of private tutoring

In an act that strongly supports the theory that Wadham doesn’t want equality, rather an inversion of inequality, a tutor at Wadham a couple of  weeks ago sent out an email “strongly advising” that Wadham students consider the ethical implications of tutoring students for a fee. “You are, of course, free agents” the email concedes, before doing its very utmost to imply that students of Wadham are not, in fact, even remotely free.

It’s an odd one. Wadham “has a strong commitment to providing a level playing field for all [its] undergraduate applicants”, and yet apparently resents the fact that some people might want to profit from their massively expensive Oxford education for which most of them have worked extremely hard, as have we all. Most. Some really haven’t. Anyway, Wadham “also warmly welcomes top-quality applicants from relatively well-off backgrounds, and applicants educated in the private sector”. I happen to know a few people whose backgrounds would be considered extremely well-off (if a background can be so, with which the grammarian in me would take issue), and they enjoy their time in Wadham greatly. It’s just such an absurd idea: Wadham runs background checks on all of its applicants, do they? Had I applied to Wadham, would I have been asked to state my household income at the bottom of my MLAT? Buffoonery of the highest degree, I’d say. 

To appease my editors I’ll pretend there’s another side to this argument, briefly: I understand that how expensive tutors gives an advantage to students rich enough to afford the often-expensive, private, extracurricular tuition. It does. But in that case, the point the tutor should be making is “…and so you should be offering your tuition for free”. Except nobody would, because as much as Wadham might like to flee from political reality, we do – sadly – live in a country whose governing bodies and the populace that elects them have decided that capitalism is to be our way forward. Capitalism. Capital. Ism. 

We’ll keep the red flag flyyyyyying…

Everyone at Oxford (with the exception of the Ruskin) is here because they work better with their minds than their hands. That’s not a jab at the fine artists among us – minds are also involved, but they’re necessarily nifty with their hands too (though it is a jab at those who don’t quite deserve the prefix “fine”). For a high percentage of Oxford graduates, the next, very substantial chapter of our lives (that stint between graduation and retirement), we will be trading our talents for money. I think the Wadham tutor has got it ever so slightly wrong here, because he’s prioritising the people who are – at this stage – conceptual and hypothetical as opposed to those who have worked bloody hard to get their place. 

I take issue with one part in particular: “a company called UniAdmissions offer current Oxbridge undergraduates and graduates over £100 per day to “help enthusiastic 16-18 year olds with their UCAS application”. (Given the cost of their programme, “enthusiastic” here is inevitably and necessarily a euphemism for “very rich”.)” My question is this: how do you know the highly expensive fees aren’t designed to ensure that the richer students (who are willing and able to pay lots over a reasonable asking price) are subsidising the tuition of students for whom it would not otherwise be a possibility? I do know this, because – in a rare bout of genuine journalism – I actually contacted all the companies that were cited in the article.  For families with a low household income, all but one of the tuition agencies offer free tuition. The other offers massively reduced rates. What’s more, the money for that subsidised tuition comes directly from the higher rates that the wealthier students pay.

I wonder when will Oxford alter this bizarre dynamic between respecting enough to give us a place and patronising us to the extent that they have to spell out, letter by letter, the ethical implications of everything we do.

Tags: rich — summer jobs — tuition — tutoring — Wadham