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The Truth About Oxbridge

The Truth About Oxbridge

Warning: Rant Incoming!

Right now the University of Cambridge is ranked the third best in the world. Oxford is the first. You could be mistaken for thinking that securing a place at one of these institutions will set you up for life.

The admissions figures seem to bear it out. Last year 21,500 people applied to Oxford for 3,300 places. Cambridge had 18,500 for around 3,500 places. The stats say that Oxbridge graduates earn an average of £31,000 in their first year in work, and will go on to earn around £400k more than their contemporaries at less prestigious universities over their working lives.

Last night, as I sat in my privately rented ex-council house, in the middle of my 'problem' estate, watching my unemployed husband struggle to put together some cheap flat-pack Chinese furniture from eBay, I reflected on how true that was. /sarcasm

The reality is that the people who go into those cushy positions on good pay would probably have done so without the Oxbridge degree. They are, by and large, the same people whose family have the money and connections to set them up wherever they studied.

The big difference I found between the private school kids and those of us from state schools at Cambridge was the former's overwhelming sense of entitlement. Or, in more pleasant terms, their self-confidence. They had every right to be where they were, and every right to go on to success afterwards.

Imposter syndrome was a malady of the oiks.

In the first week one girl patronisingly told me how sweet it was they let under-achieving comprehensive school kids, like myself, attend in the name of positive discrimination. A grade point breakdown showed I had out scored her across the board but, really, what did that matter?

That same week all us newbies at my all girls' college were 'treated' to an inspirational talk about how it was our duty to make the most of this opportunity. I.e. we shouldn't throw it all away by falling pregnant like those ignorant chavs back home. While we were at it, we were warned that if we were found to be in paid employment during term time we could be expelled.

To press the point home we were advised we would have a limit of two hours of internet streaming time a day, lest we be tempted into frivolous activities like, well, anything that didn't involve reading a book in silence.


Lecturers - teaching in cramped and outdated classrooms, without any actual teacher training - complained loudly about a contemporary ad campaign for Anglia Ruskin University. ('There is more than one university in Cambridge.') How dare they compare themselves to our glorious institution?

At training for the joint volunteer run student nightline, Linkline, it was an eye opener to see the far superior facilities and the down to earth friendliness of the Anglia Ruskin students. None of them even thought to ask what my parents did for a living, or in which far flung country I had spent my gap yah.

(Newport, dishing up canteen food and scrubbing toilets at St. Joseph's Hospital.)

For some people that phone number probably really was a lifeline.

At college our tutor, nominally in charge of our wellbeing, announced at a compulsory society dinner that she didn't believe in depression or mental illness. Presumably the girl who disappeared between first and second year, hospitalised with bulimia and then taken home to recover by her parents, was just a figment of our collective imaginations.

The same tutor announced after my graduation that she would be unable to write me a reference as I had once missed one of her lectures to attend an interview for a place on a PGCE course.

For me it kind of summed up the complete lack of emphasis placed on future prospects of employment. Had I stayed closer to home the universities within travelling distance prided themselves on providing business training, interview skills, etc.

For the average Cambridge student, I suppose it just isn't necessary.

If you have to spend six months plus applying for work or training positions in London, so be it. If you need to work for next to nothing - or just nothing - in the name of gaining experience, what can you do? When the bills start stacking up, your shared digs get too much, as Jarvis Crocker lamented, 'if you called your Dad he could stop it all.'

The rest of us don't have that safety net. You have to take what you can get.

And, when it comes down to it, especially if you've no desire to stay in the south east (of England), it turns out that Oxbridge degree isn't that much of a help after all...

[Disclaimer: It is a help, don't get me wrong. Just not the kind of help that gets you earning £30k plus within months - or years, or even decades - of graduating!]


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