The sorry trend of the fifth place blues

Image credit: foshie

Have you heard? You must have – every student knows the importance of trawling through university rankings. I know it’s all I do when I’m not studying. We clearly haven’t been paying close enough attention, as now we have to mourn that Cambridge is only fifth in the world. 

I know, I’m sorry – you’d probably just recovered, consoling yourself that things could have been worse, Cambridge might have been fifth and Oxford fourth! – and here I am to remind you of the whole horrid situation again. Not that national papers aren’t doing their bit to remind you of that too: you’ve probably seen the headlines announcing our shameful state. They’ve spoken to the experts on the matter too. A particular favourite was Professor Smithers, who spoke to The Telegraph. Apparently, one of the reasons Cambridge and other Russell Group universities are struggling is because there are “all sorts of requirements in terms of ethnic mix, the levels of income of the students, and whether they come from low income areas” which “is getting in the way of the purpose of universities which is identifying the most talented students”. Welcome to 2017, where money and ethnicity still matter to your academic abilities. Isn’t progress glorious?

But maybe, just maybe, there is something more to Cambridge. I asked some fellow first-years and Kirsten suggested that there is a “great community spirit”, while Jontie commented on fellow students always being happy to lend a hand, whether it be with the work itself or offering a tea break. That there is a world beyond studying was something of a recurring theme: the endless opportunities to see people’s talents outside academia, in plays, concerts, comedies and sports. Niall told me that fencing in a Varsity competition against Oxford was one of his most memorable moments: “It was both highly competitive, while at the same time having a very supportive atmosphere.” Even when talking about their studies, students were keen to encourage perspective: Ellie remarked that one essay, or worksheet isn’t deserving of any panic, while Frances said it was important to “take a step back and maybe talk about how you feel with a friend” if the work seems overwhelming.

It seems that students have a little more than grades on their minds. At times, the reputation of Cambridge can feel daunting; yet, as Susannah rightly told me, “everyone can bring something different to Cambridge and it’s not always academic stuff which counts.”

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