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A cohort of classism: Oxbridge becomes less diverse in 2017 intake

Oxbridge has always lacked diversity in its student body. Source: shutterstock.com

Renowned as two of the most prestigious and elite universities in the world, Oxford and Cambridge are stuck in reverse when it comes to diversifying their student bodies.

Oxbridge has gained worldwide respect for its academic reputation across all fields. Some of the greatest minds and bravest politicians have been produced by the institutions’ rigorous education. These universities are not for the academically faint hearted.

But faint hearted or not, if you’re not from London or south-east England, statistics show your chances of earning a place are seriously diminished. According to The Guardian, almost half of all offers for the 2017 intake went to people living in London and the south-east.

Isabella Renehan, a privately educated northern woman who graduated from Oxford in June 2017 told Study International: “Whilst I have always lived in Manchester [north-west England], I had never really considered myself to fit into any ‘Northern Stereotype’, mainly because my accent isn’t very strong.

“But when I arrived at Oxford I was met with preconceptions and prejudices. People assumed that I must be working class or have gone to a state school.

“Not only is it unsettling that such attributes are grouped together but also that such attributes are assumed only to be associated with a particular geographical location.”

MP for Tottenham, David Lammy has continuously campaigned for Oxford to become more inclusive.

“At a time when London and the south-east are more dominant than at any other point in our history, Oxbridge are failing to live up to their responsibilities as national universities.” said Lammy.

A spokesperson for Oxford said that the university “absolutely take on board Mr Lammy’s comments, and we realise there are big geographical disparities in the numbers and proportions of students coming to Oxford.”

Observing that the areas sending fewest students to Oxford tend to be the most disadvantaged, the spokesperson said: “Rectifying this is going to be a long journey that requires huge, joined-up effort across society – including from leading universities like Oxford – to address serious inequalities.”

Aside from geographical disparities, there is also a disproportionate amount of privately educated students admitted to Oxbridge.

An average of 40 percent of all offers made by Oxbridge are to students with private education, despite only 7 percent of the population being privately educated, says The Guardian.

However, The Independent notes that 31 percent of state school students applied for the five most over-subscribed subjects at Cambridge, compared to 28.4 per cent of private school applications.

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These figures show that although there may be more to the story than simply Oxbridge prioritising private education over state schools, the numbers still suggest some form of prejudice.

These statistics may be particularly unsettling for international students, who do not only have to overcome regional stereotypes, but racial and cultural barriers as well.

But a postgraduate student studying at Cambridge, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Study International: “There is a wide range of nationalities and an even bigger range of academic interests, but a universal enthusiasm for learning.”

Nevertheless, she is aware her experience only accounts for her college and postgraduate experience.

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