Oxbridge – is there some credence to the assumptions of elitism?

Oxbridge has always been associated with elitism. On a superficial level, you can see why – myths of the Bullingdon club, punting (aka the most upper-middle class activity ever), and a worrying percentage of the government always seem to be ex-Etonians and Oxbridge alumni. But this is just how it looks on the surface – it can’t be like that on the inside, surely? Is it still ‘elitist’ if you have people from every socioeconomic group dressing up and going to balls?

I don’t think Oxbridge favour privately educated people, or white people, or men. There are measures in place to make sure the admissions process is fair, and though there’s still work to be done, the same can be said of any uni. It’s not something particular to Oxbridge.

But having actually got my foot in the door with an offer for an MPhil, I can see why the accusations of elitism seem to stick.

It cost me £60 just to apply to Cambridge, and I had to pay to acquire and certify my transcript and send it off. My aunt stepped in when she saw the fee was putting me off applying and gave me the money as a Christmas present. If she hadn’t done so, I probably wouldn’t have applied. £60 is a lot of money for me – and I’m well aware that I’m already in a very fortunate position. If it felt like a lot to me – what about other applicants?

I’m so grateful to my aunt, but what about those with no one to give them £60? Why should Cambridge charge that when no one else does? I applied to Leeds Uni for a masters as a backup and haven’t had to spend a penny.

And looking at the other expenses I’m going to rack up – accommodation costs a bomb, formal dinners aren’t going to come cheap, and May Ball tickets are often in the hundreds – I can’t help but think maybe it isn’t as liberal as I hoped it’d be. Plus, it does just seem a bit stuffy and silver-spoon-y to even have things like matriculation, formals and May Week at uni. I thought those things were left at private schools.

I suppose I’m biased, coming from Leeds where things are about as liberal as they get, but I can’t help but raise eyebrows at all the formalities and ‘tradition’ that is coming with going to Cambridge. I kind of assumed when applying that I could just focus on why I was there – to do academic research in one of the most respected unis in the world – and skip over all these weird ceremonies. But as I get closer to going, everything I thought I could easily avoid seems so ingrained in the uni’s culture.

I’m not at Cambridge yet, but being half-in, half-out of the institution? I’m starting to think that maybe people might have a point with this elitism malarkey…

Serena Smith

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