Oxford graduates have been shown to have a leading role in the Obama administration this week, after it emerged that more of the President’s closest officials attended the University than any single publicly-funded American institution.
Eleven of the most influential members of Obama’s executive branch are Oxonians, ranking the University behind only Yale, Harvard and Georgetown. By contrast, only two of David Cameron’s officials attended US Universities and not a single cabinet minister crossed the Atlantic to take their degree.
A possible reason for this imbalance is the historic difference in the cost of a higher education in Britain and the USA. Whilst most Russell Group Universities took the opportunity to raise fees to £9,000 per year, many Ivy League schools provide courses which annually charge more than $50,000.
Others have pointed to the political diplomatic advantage employing graduates of foreign Universities may give the President. Alejandra Gaytan, University of Texas student currently on an English course at Wadham College commented:
“My stay here in Oxford, although it has only been a week, has been extremely different from the United States. The culture, the people and the surroundings connote a different environment.
“This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are smarter or brighter than American graduates, because that’s not the case. But, maybe President Obama wants a different view of things and Oxford students can provide that.”
In the UK, eleven of 23 Cabinet members attended Oxford, seemingly making Oxford graduates in government a shared feature of the ‘special relationship’.
However, it appears that Oxford students in particular are desired on Capitol Hill, with graduates from other UK institutions such as Cambridge being negligible in comparison.
One reason for the disproportionate number of Oxford graduates at the heart of American politics is the Rhodes Scholarship. Susan Rice, for instance, Obama’s national security adviser, studied at New College as a Rhodes Scholar, receiving an MPhil in 1988 and a DPhil in 1990.
Speaking to New York Daily News, Elliot Gerson, the American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust, said: “We’ve been sending Americans to Oxford since 1904. The majority [of American students at Oxford] attend on merit scholarships – representing an intellectual elite.”
Rhodes scholars have reached even greater heights in Washington in the past. The most famous example of this is President Bill Clinton, who attended University College between 1968 and 1970.
The programme covers the cost of Oxford tuition for the most promising American graduates, thus vastly widening access to post-graduate study at Oxford. Rhodes scholars also receive a monthly stipend, and access to Rhodes House on South Parks Road.
However, many predict that the imbalance between American and British University’s political graduates will change as the cost of a British degree continues to rise.
Chelsea Lasky, a student of the University of Boston, stated, “With more and more US universities working to make a US education affordable for UK students, I foresee studying abroad to become more of a doable venture, and one that will pay off not only for the individual, but for both countries.”
However, Kristin Lampe, an American student studying Law at Lincoln, was pleased that Oxford remained at the heart of Washington:
“I appreciate all Obama is doing to promote Oxford’s reputation in the US. Americans sadly still ask me, “Oh, is that, like, a school?”