Balls are the clearest indication of Oxford’s elitism problem

Photo: Oliver Robinson

After purchasing a ticket to the upcoming Rag Ball, some of us will find our pockets lighter by £85. With carousels, fire breathers and psychedelic light shows, at Oxford we spare no expense when it comes to having a good time. In an evening of decadent excess, students can socialise and celebrate in beautiful surroundings. But who exactly enjoys these college events?

Many feel that these charity balls, along with college and society balls, are an integral, fascinating element of the Oxford experience. Though the night may promise free food and drink, which many will binge on to redeem their losses, the golden ticket is still a tall order for those living on a tight budget. And this begs the question of whether Oxford caters to all students, regardless of background.

Most college balls cost between £100-£150, which for many students constitutes a substantial part of their budget. As Oxford bars students from work during term time, students must rely on their maintenance loan to fund their Cinderella-esque journey. Whilst most universities do host balls, Oxford’s extravaganzas carry their own culture. And to some, it’s a culture of exclusion.

Former Education Minister David Lammy has recently accused the University of overarching and acute lack of diversity. The University has also recently been identified as being dominated by students from more affluent parts of the country, such as the South-East, with only 15% of students coming from Northern regions, 11% from the Midlands and 3% from Wales. Statistics like this bring the arguably elitist aspects of the Oxford experience into question.

Arguably, the attendance at commemoration balls is indicative of a wider problem within the University, that of access. While events like these are an important feature to retain, it is difficult to navigate doing so without excluding certain members of the student body.

However, by diminishing the cost, the experience itself may be diminished. Do the most lavish and memorable nights come hand in hand with the expense? Subsidising tickets for those who struggle to pay is also fraught with difficulties reminiscent of the stigma attached to free school dinners.

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Making steps to ensure that Oxford’s college balls are available to everyone, regardless of their wealth or background is an important step in Oxford’s progression towards a modern, diverse and equal environment, whilst preserving the charac- teristics that give the University its own distinct, traditional atmosphere. Despite the criticism that these occa- sions attract, they are still a treasured milestone for many.

The more salient fact is that Oxford as a whole has to consider how wealth and class affect the overall experience of students as individuals, whether this limits their prospects when it comes to application, acceptance and life within college itself.

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