Blame for our University’s blatant inequality should lie with the education system, not with Oxford

Startling figures released by Cherwell last week are indicative of educational divides that arise much earlier than Oxford admissions, argues Rachel Collett

Oxford Union officials, their guests, and speakers following last week's 'populism' debate. Photo: The Oxford Union

It’s safe to say I don’t exactly fit in with the majority of Oxford students as the daughter of a postman, who attended a state comp in a northern industrial town near Liverpool.

This constant imposter syndrome and feeling of exteriority is apparent every day in every sphere, as I make my way through my Oxford degree.

Cherwell’s recent report, which gave statistics proving the Union, student journalism, and politics were dominated by the privately educated, shows that my anxieties are not imagined.

There is a huge class problem at Oxford that permeates through academic work as well as extra-curricular activities, and serves to exclude working class students from every area of Oxford life.

The same structural inequalities that makes access to Oxford almost impenetrable for people of my background are apparent within the university itself, making access to the ‘Oxford life’ a myth for those of us who are not trained debaters or mini-politicians at school.

The dominance of students with privileged educational or income backgrounds in the Union or student politics reflects the opportunities presented to them through school debating societies and young parliament initiatives. Accompanied with the obvious academic privilege that comes with independent schooling, these opportunities inevitably give students from such backgrounds a privilege in all spheres of Oxford life, as well as after graduation when entering careers.

Indeed, it is too simplistic to view the issue of private schooling simply through the lens of those who had access to better teaching: it is these societies and extra-curricular activities that give the privileged a real upper hand.

From my own perspective, as Women’s Officer of Oxford Uni- versity Labour Club and someone actively involved in Oxford’s political scene, the dominance of posh, white, public schoolboys is felt in every space.

OULC actually fared better in Cherwell‘s recent report than most other societies, especially compared to OUCA (although that is hardly a surprise), yet is still ruled by men.

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Despite women being admitted around one hundred years ago, the atmosphere in such arenas is as though nothing has changed – liberation groups continue to be treated as exterior, and struggle to raise their voices above the noise of those taught their opinion is most valid in this space.

The class problems at Oxford are therefore simply indicative of a wider societal problem, in which such middle-upper class students attending the best grammar and private schools are set up from a young age to be the future leaders of the country, meaning every institution, not just Oxford and Cambridge, continues to also be dominated by the privately educated.

Half of both the BBC top earners list and the number of MPs sitting in the House of Commons are from privileged educational backgrounds, a hugely disappointing number considering only seven per cent of the population attend private schools.

For example, one in ten MPs attended one single public school – Eton.

Such figures reveal undeniable disproportionate inequality in a variety of institutions.

This shows that perhaps even attending university – especially the best in the world – as a working class or state comprehensive-educated student does not necessarily give you a leg up in such occupations and in a society which still remains to be dominated by a minority elite.

Things have to change so that working class students are represented at this university.

Otherwise, Oxford is simply going to die out as an out of touch, patriarchal, and elitist institution which contributes to a system built on class, gender, and racial inequalities.

Through the work of campaigns such as Class Act and Decolonise Oxford, we can promote greater representation in these spaces, as well as support to gain the confidence and skills to stand for positions in such societies.

Of course, it is up to the University itself to accept more state comprehensive students – which is indeed increasing every year – but it must be understood that the problems which exist here for working class students is more the fault of our country’s education system, which allows for unequal educational opportunities based on monetary income and class.

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While private schools still exist, and while they continue to offer the best learning as well as preparation for Oxford life compared to state comps, there will continue to be a huge disparity in the life and opportunity of students here.

Something has to change.

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