Christ Church is stuck in the past

The scholars' room ballot bump is archaic and elitist.


Christ Church is a college I sincerely love. It provides opportunity, community and engagement on a level I could never have anticipated. However, no matter how much you love something, accepting there is scope for improvement shouldn’t be forgone.

On the 12th of May, I proposed a motion to change the way in which accommodation is allocated for students after their first year. As it stands, students who are awarded a Scholarship or Exhibition in first year receive preferential treatment when it comes to room selection via a separate ballot in their third year. This, I thought, warranted scrutiny, considering it was near impossible to find a college with the same system, as most other colleges have deemed it archaic and elitist.

Christ Church accommodation is generally of a high standard but there are marked differences between rooms, meaning that the system is justified as rewarding and incentivizing hard work.

However, on the whole, privately educated students tend to perform better in Prelims – this inequality balancing out as students progress towards Finals. Other arbitrary factors can influence first-year performance such as physical and mental health. Whilst hard work should be rewarded, first-year results should not have such a bearing on one’s third year.

And hard work is already acknowledged, with a generous £300 scholarship. Such rewards are not at the detriment to others, in the way that securing nicer rooms for one’s final years are.

Furthermore this ballot bump is given for Exhibitions, which are awarded with no standardized procedure, meaning that year-after-year, some subject tutors award several Exhibitions, and others award none. It is clear that this system is flawed, unfair and ought to be removed.

When brought to the GM, I was happy that a majority of the JCR voted in favour of reform. However, this motion required a 2/3 majority, and so failed to pass. Nevertheless, the JCR has expressed a will for progressive change, which the college Censors must hear.

Opposition to the motion focused on the role of the Scholars’ room ballot bump as an incentive for hard work. Clearly this incentive is not working, as Christ Church has maintained a mediocre position on the Norrington Table in recent years. In fact, Christ Church is one of the only colleges across Oxford that gives preferential treatment to Scholars and Exhibitioners when it comes to room selection. If there is progressive change on this front in Oxford, it is clear that Christ Church is falling well behind.

More revealing is the fact that senior college staff had already excluded any possibility of change when told the motion was coming forward. The senior staff at Christ Church are out of touch and unaware of the fact that nearly all other colleges are doing things differently. Following the vote, it is still unclear whether the Censors would accept proposed changes, even if the JCR confirmed their sentiment in another GM.

Christ Church often has a negative image, one that is characterized as archaic, static and elitist. I have fortunately found this inaccurate to a large extent from my time here. However, on this important issue of Scholar and Exhibitioner ballot privilege, we are on the wrong side of progress I believe, and the majority of voting JCR members agreed. This change has commanded the majority of our JCR and yet college staff are against it. Christ Church can only exorcise these often-unfair labels if it embraces reform and engages with students; otherwise, as it stands, it will be condemned to living in the past.