YES – Joe Miles
The interest shown in the Norrington Table is entirely understandable in the context of evolutionary competition. Rivalry with other universities in national or international league tables is out of the question, given the stark refusal of most Oxford students to admit that the world beyond St Hugh’s (and most won’t even go that far) actually exists. Competing with Cambridge is limited mostly to the Boat Race, and “competition” in this context would wrongly imply that they would ever pose a serious challenge to Oxford as an institution. The collegiate system fortunately serves as a very useful outlet for our need for challenge. Given Oxford’s fundamentally academic reputation, it is no surprise that there is a struggle to be seen as the “best” college in terms of exam performance. It is not just enough to be a student at a world-renowned university – one has to be in a class of people better than most of the other students there too.
Yet as a performance metric, the Norrington Table is of little to no use. True, there are a few colleges that consistently perform well; Magdalen, St John’s and New College being pretty clear examples. However, data produced by the Oxford Tab highlights just how little the Norrington Table tells us about relative college merits. The accumulated scores of the colleges over the past few years generally aren’t far apart. In other words, viewed over time, colleges really don’t tend to be that much better or worse than one another in terms of academic performance. If they are, then the Norrington Table data does not reflect this. Either way, this makes the table interesting but not particularly useful for judging the relative academic merit of colleges.
The most important reason of all, of course, is that Oxford isn’t a primarily academic institution. It also serves as a place where lifelong friendships (and enmities- especially at the Union) are born, and where a student can discover talents that they had never thought to explore. Much of this takes place outside colleges, so there’s no reason to suppose that choosing a college that the Norrington Table thinks is “good” will necessarily ensure that you take all that Oxford has to offer. The best advice that I can offer potential Oxford applicants is choose a college that makes you feel comfortable.
NO – Anna Cooban
So LMH is ‘officially’ the stupidest college in Oxford. Or so the idea goes. You may have thought that those dull thuds were the sounds of the latest fracking initiative moving into your town, but they are in fact the sounds of LMH soon-to-be-freshers beating their heads listlessly against their walls, so distraught they are with the recently published Norrington Table. Some individuals may be genuinely wounded by their college’s position on the table, but for most the simple fact that they have beaten thousands of other bright sparks to wander these hallowed halls provides more than an adequate consolation.
It is hard to bash the Norrington Table and call for its abolition when many surely feel a warm, self-fancying glow when Oxford appears high up on the world university rankings. The Times World University Rankings 2012-2013 placed Oxford at number 2, just lagging behind the California Institute of Technology. Any more focused intra-Oxford ranking system does not seem quite so important when given this perspective. It is, however, hard to deny that a certain level of academic snobbery accompanies Oxford’s collegiate system and the Norrington Table can only exacerbate this power play, most of which is light hearted mockery, some of which does spring from a real belief that one college is intrinsically better than another.
Perhaps my apathetic view on college rankings springs from the fact that, as a proud Hughsian, my college hardly ever appears in the top half of the table – a listlessness reminiscent of Britain’s disinterestedness in the Eurovision Song Contest. If we’re not going to win, we may as well have fun laughing at all those who do win, and take it so seriously. Reducing an eminent Oxford college to the image of a Finnish ‘rock monster’ may help console those from the less prestigious colleges of their place in the table. I say we keep the Norrington Table, if for no other reason than to derive pleasure from the personification of New or Magdalen as a Robocop from the Eastern Bloc.