Dear Oxford University …


Dear Oxford University,

I am writing to you to accept your offer of a place to read medicine at Oriel College. I’m a northern state-school student, and can’t help but question why you’d offer me a place in the first place? The Guardian has a section of its website devoted to ‘Oxbridge Elitism’, David Cameron came out with an (incorrect) statement that one black pupil had got into Oxford last year and politicians line up to state how elitist and unprogressive the university is. You can see why I’d question the reason you picked me as opposed to all those privately educated, tweed-jacketed other candidates.

I’ve got to admit, arriving in Oxford was a bit of a shock at first. You’d have thought I’d have been intimidated by all those ancient, beautiful buildings, or by those tutors with the Dumbledore-like beards, gowns and eccentricities. But then again, at school I was more intimidated by the smokers behind the bike shed, the guy who knew the neighbourhood drug dealer or the one who would break your arm if you looked at him funny. Any state school student can surely take Oxford in their stride? In any case, it turns out my tutor doesn’t have a
beard, looks nothing like Dumbledore, has a Scottish accent and is actually a nice guy.

After getting over the buildings, I was worried that your ‘traditions and rituals’ would reflect badly upon you. I mean who wants to have to wear a suit and gown to exams and dinner? The sheer number of tourists who come and visit this University and stare open-mouthed at students in academic dress, riding their bikes whilst carrying 23 different books and discussing their next game of Quidditch surely tells you that your reputation is just as intact as ever. I certainly imagined that the tourists were here because of the university, and how interesting some of your university’s traditions are. Although I could be wrong, perhaps the tourist industry is just as vibrant in other university towns.

Once here, would I be simply learning with a closed mind, stating facts and unoriginal interpretations? My tutor might have informed me that the x-ray I’ve just been describing as of a 12 year old’s right arm is actually the left leg of a 78 year old woman, but my interview expanded and excited a passion for my subject, truly making me think ‘outside the box’. The questions asked of Oxford candidates are often ridiculed, but when they’re placed in context, they actually make quite a bit of sense.

Now I can understand the frustration that those who were rejected might have. While you accepted me to read medicine, you rejected over ten times that number. They’re all probably just as capable as me, just as insightful and intelligent, and possibly as funny; but obviously there was a differentiating factor. I hope that most of them go on to be successful, but they all applied here for a reason. Oxford is, according to the Times, the best university in the world at which to read medicine in 2011. To dismiss Oxford’s opinion of you as a candidate displays a certain immaturity in my opinion. If someone really has such a poor opinion of this place, why would you even bother applying in the first place?

I suppose if you wanted to study law, you could hedge your bets that studying it at Oxford would mean you weren’t working for Lawyers4U when you graduate. I suppose that’s the reason why Oxford hasn’t seen the huge decline in applications that other universities have.

Now I realise that my acceptance letter comes at a time when Oxford is being criticised in the media. If I had believed the papers before applying, I’d have thought that everyone at Oxford was white, southern English, upper class and stinking rich. When I arrived for my interview, I found this to be totally wrong. A diverse student body may all dress in suits for dinner, ride bicycles and read a fair bit, but they’re a decent enough bunch, and come from every corner of the globe.

I can’t imagine anyone being ignorant or arrogant enough to write a letter declining their place, before it had even been given to them. They’d probably want it to be provoking, as it might then get into the papers and they would probably fill it with a load of misguided prejudices. Wanting to be in the media spotlight is a fun sport in 21st century Britain, as is criticising Oxford as prejudiced, elitist and archaic.

Now, you’re never going to get everything right. People might question what you can learn about a candidate in a 20 minute interview, but they should also question what other universities can learn about a candidate without giving them an interview. If anyone were to question whether you were being discriminatory in the candidates you selected during their interview period, you’d of course just put forward some basic facts, and the media would pipe down slightly. If, lets say, a girl complained that you were discriminating against state-educated pupils, and you actually accepted 6 state school students for a law course and just one privately educated student, the media would surely forget about any ideas of Oxford being elitist.

Oh and thanks for the glass of water given to me at my interview. There was one girl in the corner who seemed unable to see the table full of drinks and cakes. But then again, she was muttering and writing down on a notepad to herself, something about elitism and archaic traditions – she might have mentioned the Guardian? The rest of us decided to play Articulate instead.

Best Wishes,
Mark Johnson

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