Oxbridge has caught up with the modern world; both universities have tried in earnest to detach themselves from the elitist values and superciliousness which used to define them. I would argue that they have succeeded. However, it seems that I am in the minority. Most, particularly millennials determined to be anti-establishment, see Oxford and Cambridge as exclusive institutions, packed with snobs, bigots and public schoolboy braggarts …
A mere thirty or forty years ago, there may have been some truth in this stereotype. Now however, things have changed; the proportion of state-educated pupils at Cambridge has risen by 8 per cent in the last decade. The figure currently stands at 61.9 per cent, which is more than both Bristol, with 61.4 per cent, and Durham, with 60.5 per cent. Oxford is lagging behind, at 55.7 per cent, but again, this statistic has been on the rise.
There are yet more misconceptions about the costs of living at Oxford and Cambridge. Many assume that because of Oxbridge’s prestige, you need more money to be able to afford to even go there. This is far from the truth. In fact, because the universities themselves are wealthy, it is them who fork out for you, rather than the other way around.
Being in a college means much of your food, your rent and your vital bills are subsidised, and the bursary system of both universities is the most generous of any in the country. Oxford, for example, offers the Oxford Opportunity Bursary, which is around £4,000 in your first year and £3,000 in the remaining two, which is over double, say, the King’s College London bursary at £1,500.
But the real reason I decided to write this article is not just that I want everyone to know that I’m not a snob (although, for the record, I am not), but because this warped perception of the world’s two most prestigious universities may be putting some people off from applying.
Regardless of the social make-up of Oxford and Cambridge, or their history of being elitist and prejudiced institutions, they offer countless brilliant opportunities and world-class teaching by professors who are the ultimate experts in their subjects.
The worst thing is that some bright, talented young people, who would thrive in an Oxbridge learning environment, who secretly want to apply, may be missing out on this once-in-a-lifetime chance — because they think they are not ‘good enough’. Young people need to be told about Oxbridge, because every applicant has as good a shot as any at getting in.
I went to an interview just last week at Cambridge University. It was gruelling. But regardless of whether or not I get a place, I am immensely glad that I applied and had a go. Granted, I encountered a fair few public schoolboys preening and looking down their upper-middle-class noses at me, but there were also numerous students in my position. Of course there are going to be class divisions, but really, it is the same across the entirety of the United Kingdom. It is not a reason to dismiss Oxbridge as ‘posh’ and it is certainly not a reason to deter you from applying.
The way I see it, since the opportunity is there, you should really just grab it by the horns — and most importantly, cast aside any misguided preconceptions which you may have.