Lucy Dyer: Yes, individuals should make choices that best suit them
Having a twin sister who has been studying at Leeds whilst I study at Oxford gives me a unique standpoint on this person’s situation, and an insight into the peaks and pitfalls of both university experiences. On balance, Oxford is certainly not always the right choice for a prospective student.
I may seem ridiculous in arguing against choosing to study at my own university. However, regardless of the Oxford’s renowned name and its numerous networking opportunities, I firmly believe people should base their university choice on which course and environment is best for them.
To start with, the options for degree courses vary massively from university to university: in fact, I could do an entirely different French degree at Leeds to the one I’m doing at Oxford. Studying the wrong course in order to get a degree from the “right” university could leave a student disillusioned and uninterested, wasting academic potential just to add Oxford to a CV.
Likewise, the environment in which a student wants to learn and live is very important. Some may prefer a bigger city like Leeds or want to mingle with students from a variety of UK regions – less likely in Oxford where the intake remains heavily biased towards the South East and Greater London (2016-2018 data).
In addition, those who want the typical British ‘university experience’ would probably be better off somewhere else. Oxford is an amazing university full of historic colleges, crazy traditions and hectic eight-week terms, but for me, it is hardly the ‘cooking on a shoestring, cheap beer, part-time job’ university life found in Leeds. If that is what a student is looking for, Oxford’s not their best option.
To me, a student choosing Oxford’s ‘prestige’ over a university better matched to them highlights a weak point in the way we value educational success. It shouldn’t be about status or what other people think: it isn’t their degree, and they won’t spend at least three years and £27,000 or more studying for it. Surely we should be encouraging young people to choose a degree to suit first and foremost their own interests and preferences. If an Oxford course ticks the right boxes that’s great. But doing an entire degree just to say “I went to Oxford” seems a waste of what could have been three years of much greater personal enjoyment and intellectual stimulation elsewhere.
With the amount of work students are expected to do and the shamefully notorious poor mental health among students today, it is vital that students study in a place that makes them happy and fulfilled. That, far above any reputation or outdated value system, should be the ultimate aim when choosing a university.
Marcin Pisanski: No, many reasons for rejecting Oxbridge are misguided
You know the gist. Oxford is a bastion of white male privilege and class prejudice. You don’t have the proper public school credentials? Keep out. We’re a university so self-loathing it covers itself in ‘Oxbridge Must Fall’ stickers, and our Union hosts debates about burning the uni to the ground. Oxford has a bad reputation.
So unsurprisingly, annually A-Levels results day brings us stories of bright pupils spurning Oxford. Some even go as far as sending their colleges rejection letters, backed unswervingly by The Guardian.
But does it make sense to reject a place which so many in the UK and abroad would sell a kidney to have? Many of those stories do list academic and course-related differences that explain some of the prospective students’ motives. But what they don’t hide is the most common factor of serious misconceptions about Oxford’s acceptance of minorities and state-schoolers.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s a great deal the departments and colleges could do to reduce the admissions gap between those from independent schools and others. We should overhaul our approach to BAME applicants and other underrepresented groups. But the university is trying, and every year the admissions statistics improve.
Those who reject offers are also mistaken in thinking access-related admissions issues are representative of real Oxford experiences. Oxford and Cambridge are reputation-conscious, and UK-wide discrimination against the socially disadvantaged is less prevalent here. I hardly know the school background of most of my friends.
Other common arguments – suggesting Oxford’s designed for students who cherish formal halls with upper-middle class subcultures or specific social expectations – are equally misguided. Colleges are what you make them. Their unique teaching methods and living situations allowing for unparalled University freedoms. No one can fully plan their uni experience so choosing lower-ranked institution over Oxbridge is betting against the odds – and your future life chances.
Being educated at Oxbridge has life-long benefits; it’s pointless arguing otherwise. You won’t have the same opportunities open even if you work hard elsewhere. Nor should you: voluntarily rejecting the offer is hardly an entitlement to complain about how doing so limits your connections and your chance to thrive amongst other top students from the UK and globally.
Some industries weigh that difference more than the others, like politics and the Bar. There’s no good reason to limit your employment prospects so early even if you haven’t yet considered careers in those. Oxbridge also has more to offer financially to undergraduates of all Russel Group universities, with guaranteed income-based bursaries as well as other discretionary funds offered by colleges.
So why would anyone reject an undergraduate experience with unparalleled academic, financial and pastoral support? Doing so based on grounds of inaccurate stereotypes is an offence against your own well-being. It’s time the media stopped promoting these delusions for their own political agendas.