I went to Oxford University. Twice. It’s a good school. You may have heard of it.
Unbelievable as it may sound, there are some people in my country who do not like Oxford (or Cambridge). They think it is elitist, full of snobs and silly traditions. Did you know that you have to wear a white bow-tie to take an exam? Guffaw.
Chris Patten, chancellor of Oxford and former governor of Hong Kong, gave a speech yesterday to the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, a body which represents the principals of leading UK independent schools. As head of Oxford, Patten feels the pressure of a government target to increase the amount of places given to state school pupils. He rightly finds this policy lamentable. As do I.
For the record, I was educated in a state school, as was my niece who recently graduated, and my good mate Mr. Fowles whose friendship I found during our time at Oxford. Oxford does not exclude kids from state schools, it includes those deemed the brightest and most able to cope with its academic pressures. And those pressures are immense. Do not imagine time spent idly punting on the river or sitting quietly at the back of a lecture by Dawkins or McGrath (although there is some of that). Instead, imagine the ferocity of seminars where your paper wilts under the gaze of a ruthless don. A weekly viva, if you like.
Quotas for admission to such schools are ridiculous. If privately-educated children tend to be deemed more suitable, this is an indictment of state school failure, not Oxbridgian snobbery. As Patten says, Oxford is not a social charity.
To be learned is good, surely.
(N.B. I am, of course, not suggesting one needs an Oxford degree, or even to be a graduate, to be “learned.” The leading reader in my family did not go to university.)