Rewards for good results in Mods and Prelims shouldn’t just be equal: they shouldn’t even exist. That colleges would pay for students to work harder sounds plausible enough, if a little mercenary, but it’s just not that simple. Many people may find themselves unable to get firsts however hard they work, while others coast by into the arms of their Scholar’s Gown. It isn’t paying people to work harder, but paying people for being clever.
If there’s a place people need money thrown at them for being intelligent, it isn’t Oxford. The egos of ‘Scholars’ scarcely need more massaging, and the whole farce just contributes to the immense pressure of education at Oxford. When it comes to room allocations, the problems are no better. It becomes, in the words of one student, a ‘physical symbol’ of their failure. The whole thing reeks of snobbery and caste-era labelling.
The phenomenon seems all the more strange given that the importance of prelims and mods for scholarship money is wildly irrelevant to their importance in Oxford degrees. The marks don’t count towards finals, many papers aren’t double-marked to produce consistent results, and many tutors tell their students not to worry about the exams. It should come as something of a surprise when students find hundreds of pounds hinge on their performance.
The fact that different colleges pay vastly different sums is almost irrelevant in this context, but it again demonstrates the inequities of the collegiate system. Co-curricular standards such as rent, food, bursaries, library facilities, teaching, and possession of a deer park, are subject to the whims and wealth of the college. The continued existence of such a system is manifestly unfair, especially for the many students who make the reasonable choice of an Open Application.
It may feel good to receive a cheque for three hundred pounds from your College, but wouldn’t that money be better spent elsewhere? The lack of outrage that students express at the disparities between colleges is something we wouldn’t be too loathe to forsake. The money could go to discounting rent. A better idea would be to fund scholarships for those who find it hard to pay their way at university. Surely this would be a better way for colleges to improve their position on the Norrington Table: using scholarships to make sure bright applicants aren’t put off by the social snobbery and high cost of living that comes with this university.