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College, sweet College. Staving off hunger pangs with pesto pasta.
Staving off work by procrastinatory scrolls down Facebook profiles and periodically refreshing news websites. And a brief glance at the Guardian homepage a few days ago provoked the first rant of 2012: spotlight on, Elly Nowell, the 19-year-old who is currently enjoying 15 minutes of fame for sending a 'rejection letter' to Magdalen College, Oxford.
"I realise that you will be disappointed by this decision," she wrote, "but you were in competition with many fantastic universities, and following your interview I am afraid you do not quite meet the standard of the universities I will be considering."
Now, we're all aware that this is a joke. Whether it's funny or not depends on your own inclination towards irony laid on with a trowel.
Yet in a staggeringly sanctimonious piece for the Guardian, Nowell attempted to transform a reasonably amusing, low-level prank that garnered a bit of media coverage into a robust social statement, namely that Oxford and Cambridge are elitist institutions that snub the poor and mollycoddle the rich and privileged.
Now, to state that Oxford and Cambridge show no hint of elitism would be ridiculous. There is, of course, a stark and concerning access problem plaguing both sets of dreaming spires – a recent Sutton Trust report found that four schools and one college sent more students to Oxbridge over three years than the bottom 2,000 schools and colleges combined. And there'll be no prizes doled out for guessing the identity of that one mysterious college.
But the problem does not solely lie with Oxbridge. Rather, it characterises the UK education system as a whole. Like every other highly selective, academically successful university in the UK, Oxford and Cambridge siphon off the cream of the crop, and the notorious state/private school divide skews the playing field before candidates even set foot in the dreaded interview room. When it comes to the inequalities in the UK education system, Nowell chose to target the tip of a huge iceberg.
Students at these top independent schools can expect to be given the run of copiously stocked libraries, state-of-the-art labs, theatres and sports facilities and more edifying and enlightening school trips than you can shake a stick at. Which is, obviously, fantastic for those students with parents who can foot the bills. No one would say a child, particularly their own, deserves less than the best education money can buy.
However in contrast hundreds, if not thousands, of comprehensives make do with a paucity of funds, resources and teachers that makes a well-rounded, thorough and enjoyable learning experience inaccessible.
It's easy to dismiss the high intake of private school students at Oxbridge as the barefaced recruitment of the next generation of 'Old Boys'. But we should be looking deeper into the problem rather than resorting to age old slurs which, if I'm honest, are barely applicable to the true state of play my friends and I have experienced during our time at Cambridge. Here, your background is irrelevant: whether you came from a low-income background or swanned around in a morning coat at Eton, it truly is intellect and not background by which you're measured.
Which brings us back to Nowell. If she truly had the balls to put her £27,000 tuition fee where her mouth was, she'd have rejected offers from all Russell Group universities unanimously to draw attention to the 'justice' she claims to be championing and the wider problem of accessing a top-level university education for the poorest members of society. Instead, she plans to attend University College London, another 'bastion of prestige and privilege', as she so charmingly puts it.
If Elly Nowell had accepted a place at Oxford, she would have contributed to the social diversity she claims to champion. As it stands, I can't help but wonder if her statement would have had more clout if she'd turned down an actual offer.