I feel no sympathy for the student suing Oxford

Teaching standards do vary, but academic success is as much the responsibility of students as their teachers, says Jordan Bernstein.

I’m guessing, not at all cautiously, that I’m not the only Oxford student who feels no sympathy for Faiz Siddiqui. If you’ve never heard of him, good: it means you’re reading the right type of news (as Trumpian and distasteful as it may sound).

Siddiqui is the Oxford History graduate suing our university for £1 million. He claims that the inadequate teaching he received here meant that in 2000, as he donned his subfusc for the last time and took his place among ocks of students in Exam Schools, he could only muster an upper-second. No other grade was possible or conceivable. Try as he might, the number ‘70’ evaded his every attempt.

The ensuing series of events happened like clockwork. Instead of the highly lucrative career at the tax bar he claims to have worked hard towards his whole life, all he could muster with an upper-second was a training contract at Clifford Chance (by many accounts, one of the best law firms in the world). Note, however, that with all of the pomp and circumstance that such a case deserves, Siddiqui’s counsel Roger Mallalieu has denounced this employment history as “frankly poor”. Frankly, we should all be so lucky.

Now unemployed, like the bowler-hat-guy from Disney’s Meet the Robinsons, he has had time to reflect on who really was to blame for him not reaching the heights of a legal career. Certainly not himself, no. That’s right, Oxford.

It should be noted there are some anomalies in his case that make his argument sound less petty than it otherwise might. Though the High Court have only just begun hearing evidence, it appears that there was a tangible issue during his time at Brasenose College of absent tutors, limited resources, and my personal favourite, teaching that was “a little bit dull.” It’s also alleged that tutors failed to pass medical information onto examiners. The effects are also, allegedly and rather seriously, not limited to above-average job prospects, with Mr Siddiqui saying that the “inexplicable failure” of life with a 2.1 has exacerbated clinical depression and insomnia. Certainly no laughing matter.

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But what exactly are we to make of a case like this? Well first, if there is truth to the accusations based on medical grounds, the University still has a long way to go in ensuring students are fully supported, and it’s learning all the time. Data procured under the Freedom of Information Act published in Cherwell last term showed an uptake in the number of students using the counselling service, showing, if nothing else, that there is better advertisement of the resources on offer and, perhaps, better communication with the University itself given the widespread use.

On the claim itself, many will know that even if extenuating medical circumstances are taken into account, which is rare, they will rarely result in signi cant mark increases, and even more rarely across the boundary between upper-second and first class.

And on the rest of the claim – the poor resources and dull teaching – I’m incredibly sorry for saying that the blame for a 2.1 still should not fall at the door of the University offices. We all know what we signed up for when we came to Oxford. Optional lectures, varying teachers and teaching standards across colleges, small tutorials where blagging your way through an hour means you’re screwing yourself in the long-term. If we didn’t know when we signed up, we quickly adapted.

Maybe our college library has poor resources, but we also have a Bodleian Library which by law has to be sent a copy of every book published. An Oxford student makes do with the considerable resources of a University the likes of which are an example for comparable institutions across the world. Some get a first, others aspire to one and instead get a 2.1, itself no mean feat.

But the thing about Oxford is that it prepares you for life when you leave, or if it doesn’t it certainly leaves you out in the wilderness, with nothing to expect but fundraising calls. Once you’ve got your degree and you’re training with a city law firm, you lose your right to blame Oxford for anything.

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