Debate: representation in academia is essential

Image description: Magdalen tower

For the first time, 69% of Oxford’s offers have gone to people from state schools. This may sound good, but that means that nearly a third of places have gone to an elite group. Said group representing 7% of the population. To some people this is not an issue. People have in fact told me that they’ve had friends be rejected simply because “they need to fill a quota”.

The 69% also fails to make a key distinction. That being between state comprehensives, where most people go, and the few grammar schools left which are also over-represented. For those of us euphemistically branded ‘disadvantaged’, Oxford is still a strange bubble of privilege. Yes, I agree that places should be allocated to the best applicants. But some people seem to have different ideas of who the best applicants are.

The best applicants are the ones with the most intellectual potential. The reason why Oxford has such a rigorous selection process is for the sake of making sure that tutors can gain a real insight into the applicant’s mind. It looks at more than a mark on a test which, in the long run, will contribute neither to the university nor to society as a whole.

In my post-industrial town in the north of England, it is an achievement to even go to university. Most people didn’t believe it when I got into Oxford, saying that it’s “not for people like us”. This attitude has to change. And the only way to do that is by making Oxford a place for all is by accepting people from different backgrounds.

Some people who go here still seem to think that people who get in have got it easy because we’re “disadvantaged”. As if we didn’t have to write a good personal statement, go through the tests, have interviews, and sit A Levels, which is ridiculous coming from people who went to schools which charge more per term than my yearly household income. I would love for the entry process to be completely meritocratic.

But, given the massive gap between the “have”s and “have not”s in this country, that is impossible and Oxford must make a choice between positive discrimination or straight up discrimination. This university is respected in academic circles because of its innovation and ability to be at the forefront of research. To be able to excel at this even further, Oxford needs to embrace more viewpoints and experiences. Especially those of the working class and minorities.

This is not to say that the experiences of the privileged are invalid. It is to say that they are overly represented (consciously or not) in this institution. Given the position of Oxford within British society, a concerted effort should be made to make sure that we carry on being relevant. A great example of this is the debate around the Cecil Rhodes statue; regardless of where you stand on the issue, it is a good thing to have the debate.

And this debate is far more interesting when we hear from the points of view of those who still live with the consequences of colonialism. So, I am not calling for there to be discrimination against those who went to private school. What I am calling for instead is for Oxford not to discriminate against those who aren’t the traditional Oxford type.

The opportunities different people had when growing up vary massively, and this should be taken into account. For Oxford, it will allow them to take in people from all walks of life. With more people going to university, it is about time that Oxford establishes itself as the most modern of ancient universities. It should be seen as a credible place of academia rather than an upper-class eccentricity.

Magdalen College –  LeighvsOptimvsMaximvs