Mythbusting: The Oxbridge stereotype

Image credit: Andrew Dunn

The Oxbridge stereotype – most students here will be aware of it as involving private schools, thick wallets, chinos, and a castle hidden somewhere in the country. Films like The Riot Club have done little to deconstruct the stereotype, and the recent attempt of a first-year Cambridge student to burn a £20 note in front of a homeless person has only exacerbated public opinion.

But as many people who go to Cambridge here will also know, the Oxbridge reputation is far from an accurate reflection of the student body. According to a recent Higher Education Statistics Agency report, Cambridge has only the ninth highest percentage of privately schooled pupils. To be fair, it is still in the top ten on the list, but, given its reputation as an elitist establishment, it is not bad progress.

Admittedly, the colleges do little to change public perception of Cambridge: formals, matriculation, and the exuberant usage of gowns all fall into the hands of the reporter looking for an easy article on the rich versus poor split in access to Oxbridge. However, these traditions are testament to Cambridge’s rich history, and the hard work and effort that we have put into securing a place at Cambridge, regardless of economic background.

Even those with money are usually discreet about it. Apart from the occasional slip of ‘you should see the view from my chalet in the Alps’ in conversations, it is pretty hard to distinguish them from the typical middle class, grammar-school-educated student population.

A quick skim through Memebridge nevertheless brings up another aspect of Cambridge’s reputation – the endless work students face. Memes chart the multiple stages of suffering under supervisions and essays, and I have complete sympathy with those who have made these works of art. They highlight some truth in the reputation of the university: the environment is high pressure. But this itself is evidence of how hard we worked to get here – places are given to those who deserve them.

However, one thing worthy of criticism is the infamous dining societies. Our very own Pitt Club and the Bullingdon Club in Oxford have been immortalised as the clubs to join if you want to make it in the political scene. The Bullingdon Club, especially, has been known for its outlandish behaviour, doing little in the way of changing Oxford’s reputation and, by association, ours. Nevertheless, these societies are merely a minority of the student population. It is just wrong to generalise us all as part of one identity. 

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