Oxbridge. Two Universities full of super clever, privately educated toffs, where it’s so expensive to study, you have to be rich to get in. At least that’s what I thought up until I was 14. It was then that I visited Cambridge as part of their Widening Participation work. It was with the help of students and academics on that day that I learnt all my preconceptions were wrong. Even I as someone who attended a comprehensive school with little history of Oxbridge applications, wasn’t a genius, later received EMA and certainly had no connections the landed gentry, had the potential to get in.
So when I decided to apply for University, Oxbridge was an obvious choice, because I knew my background didn’t matter. The problem is, there are still many students who have the potential for Oxbridge who are put off by the myths, much as I would have been if it hadn’t have been for that event put on by Cambridge. This is why both Cambridge and Oxford spend large amounts of money on attracting the best students, wherever they are from, and why students themselves visit schools, such as through the Target Schools campaign in Oxford, to speak to students about what life at Oxbridge is really like.
Then why is the NUS constantly perpetuating the kind of untruths that put off precisely those people Oxbridge want to see more applications from? At the last meeting of the National Executive Council of the NUS, the Vice President for Further Education, Toni Pearce, was discussing the affects of retakes in Further Education, and announced to the NEC that those who had retakes could not get in to Oxford. This is not true. And I would know; I retook 3 of my A-Level modules, and it didn’t stop Oxford from accepting me. Just to make things worse, when she was politely informed of her mistake, and the effect it could have on access to Oxford, she didn’t seem to care less.
The next onslaught comes from the NUS President himself, Liam Burns. In a recent piece he wrote for the Guardian, Liam describes Fee Waivers as “an elaborate con trick” and said that “fee waivers don’t work”. Would Liam rather Oxbridge charged £9000pa to everyone? Having worked with young people applying for University, I know that students were put off by the old £3000 fees brought in by Labour, let alone those implemented by the Coalition Government. That’s why I welcome the work of my own Student Union, who have worked hard so that Oxford will provide the most generous fee waiver package of any UK University. This will mean less students from underrepresented backgrounds are put off by higher fees, and that Oxford remains a place that all can aspire to.
The final attack against Oxbridge was made by the new Vice President for Society and Citizenship, Dannie Grufferty. After a recent article was published on the LabourList blog, calling for the abolition of Oxbridge, Dannie tweeted a link to the blog accompanied by the words “hear hear”. Has she forgotten she is meant to be representing students, rather than calling for the abolition of their institutions?
Both the institutions and the students of Oxbridge are working hard to break down the barriers stopping people applying. We know there is a lot more to be done, but we are proud of what has already been achieved. The core mission of the NUS is to “Promote, defend and extend the rights of students”. They would do well to remember this next time they speak of Oxbridge. The future choices of a generation of potential Oxbridge students may depend on it.