Monday, March 17, 2008

 

Paxo Misses Point on Oxbridge

In the Observer, 16th March 2008, Carole Cadwalladr examined the stranglehold Oxbridge seems to exert over the British Establishment:

‘[The Sutton Trust] calculates that 81 per cent of the judiciary went to Oxford or Cambridge, 82 per cent of all barristers, 45 per cent of 'leading' journalists, and 34 per cent of front-bench ministers and shadow ministers.’

Somewhat appalled, she emailed Jeremy Paxman, for a comment and received the following peremptory reply:

‘God, this is a boring subject, isn't it? Surely the reason is perfectly obvious. Oxford and Cambridge are the finest universities in Europe and two of the best universities in the world. They are also intensely beautiful, operate on a small college basis and employ some of the cleverest men and women in the world as teachers. They therefore attract some brilliant students. Only someone whose chip was so big that it completely obscured their eyes could be surprised - or consider it undesirable - that these two universities contribute lots of people to some of the more prominent areas of British life.'

Yes, but, Jeremy, isn’t it the case that even though only 7% of schoolchildren are educated privately, about half of all entrants into this key entry-point into the ruling elite, are from this tiny rich and privileged segment of our society?

Meanwhile Cadwalladr reveals that only 20% of entrants originate from 'comps'. Paxman (Malvern College and Charterhouse) seems to ignore the inequity of the Oxbridge intake, and the case made by David Kynaston (also privately educated) that parents buy places for their children in elite occupations and contribute thereby to the stifling of social mobility:

If you pay your annual boarding fees of £25,956, you have a virtually evens chance of your child making it to Oxbridge - the pathway to the glittering prizes that will almost certainly lie ahead. Altogether, there were 27 private schools in the top 30; 43 in the top 50 and 78 in the top 100. Put another way, the 70th brightest sixth-former at Westminster or Eton is as likely to get a place at Oxbridge as the very brightest sixth-formers at a large comprehensive.

Comments:
Westminster's sixth form is partly comprised of students who've gone through a very rigorous admissions procedure to get there - more rigorous, in fact, than Oxbridge's own admissions procedure, the rigorousness of which is widely overstated.

The fact that nearly half of Oxbridge's undergrads come from private schools understates the social problem. Many other undergrads come from grammar schools or faith schools, which have better funding and de facto admissions procedures.

The most revealing statistic is that 20% of students come from comprehensives. But even that doesn't go far enough: some of these comprehensives will be in fairly affluent areas, and do well by virtue of their favourable catchment areas.
 
I enjoyed my time at Oxford - I met my husband there! - and certainly would not have wished it to be spoiled by quota candidates from the inner cities. Jeremy may well be turning into a pastiche of his angry man persona but that happens to all of us, I suppose. Rather like having spent your formative years at a provincial 'Welsh' university and thereafter never having quite got over the fact.
 
Sam
Thanks for those excellent points
Mary
I'm sure you enjoyed your time at Oxford! But 'spoiled by quota candidates from the inner cities'....? Bit of a snobbish thing to say n'est ce pas?
And you're right i did spend my formative years at a 'provincial Welsh university' but the thing i've never quite got over is the insufferable, yes, snobbery again of those who think they are inherently superior to the rest of the world because they enjoyed this enhanced middle class experience at an Oxbridge college.
 
We would do better to focus on the quality of mainstream schooling rather than Oxbridge. Talk of quotas is a nonsense.

The left will be pleased to hear that Oxbridge will be the author of its own demise. The Oxford congregation's rejection of the vice-chancellor's tentative reforms is testament to this. Colleges, not central university administration, run the show. And colleges are feudal institutions: most subsidise underused chapels to the tune of millions, while utilitarian facilities remain grossly inadequate.

The result of Oxbridge's collegiate system is a massively inefficient bureaucracy, where posts are replicated and communication is virtually non-existent. Oxford's endowment per student is 15% that of Princeton's.

Much like the banks, Oxford's success is built on reputation and confidence. As soon as prospective students see that better equipped UK universities like LSE and Manchester and better funded US universities have a competitive advantage over Oxbridge, the left's qualms about elitism will dissipate. But the elitism will not disappear: for that, we need a better schooling system.
 
Hi Skipper,

There's this lot as well that you posted on earlier.

http://skipper59.blogspot.com/2008/02/on-civil-service-generalist.html#links

The problem with getting the cream is that you finish up with all of the clots on top.

I assume (or more honestly hope) that Mary is a wind-up.
 
Far from it, dear.

Look at it this way: attempts to cram several generations of thickos through A Levels has simply reduced the credibility of this qualification and has required the absurd development where university admin tutors now have to find some way of discovering who the 'real' A grades have been obtained by. Higher Ed in the UK is now inflated to ridiculous proportions with approximately 60-65% of those attending actually not deserving to do so mainly because they are thick, thick, thick.

You can find as many social indicators you like to 'prove' that this is a good thing but I'd like it explained to me why it's a good use of tax payers money to support some slack-jawed half-brained dimwit through 3 years of study at Liverpool John Moores 'University' simply for him/her to emerge as unemployable then as on the day he/she entered with only a 3rd grade degree in Media Studies to show the difference.

And so....why should Oxbridge play along with what it clearly a huge conspiracy and waste of time/money that it about to collapse?
 
Come on Mary... you must be a wind up!
 
So...what's the counter argument. I'm taking this deadly seriously, perhaps 'blogs' really are the province of silly boys and their prejudices pace your less than measue rant against fat bastards? Honestly - you liberals!
 
Students should pay more for their higher education than at present. I agree with Mary on that. But it's not hard to make a public-good case for mass education.

There is, for better or for worse, a graduate wage premium. Mary's "slack-jawed half-brained dimwit" comment simply doesn't fit the statistics. By the time they're 50, graduates earn 30% more than well-qualified non-graduates.

The social return to higher education is lower, but still significant: probably about 6-11%, with both the Putnamesque “social capital” aspect and the R&D spillover effect playing their part.
 
Mary

Please let me try to explain.

The problems outlined by Skipper’s post are two fold (please correct me if I’m wrong Skipper).

Firstly too many of the top posts come from Oxbridge. The reason I believe this is a problem is that I don’t for a minute believe that Oxbridge has a monopoly on talent. I believe that other universities have equally talented individuals who could enrich our institutions.

Secondly, Oxbridge recruits a disproportionately high percentage of students whose qualities are more attributable to the size of Daddy’s (or Mummy’s) bank account rather than their intellectual or academic ability. A person’s intelligence is not dependent upon their parents bank balance. This concerns me because our system effectively impairs many of the best talents from occupying the positions that would most benefit both themselves and the taxpayer.

Those people who benefit from their parent’s wealth rather than their own ability remove opportunities from those of poorer backgrounds who, none the less, are more academically and intellectually gifted. As was pointed out this is a serious block to social mobility.

Now to your points

“I enjoyed my time at Oxford - I met my husband there!” It is a University not a stud farm or dating agency, where you met your partner is academic.

“I certainly would not have wished it to be spoiled by quota candidates from the inner cities.”

Just like your parent’s bank balance, the place you are born does not impede your academic ability, sadly the current education system is not structured to get the best from these people who are not ’thick’ but are disadvantaged. There is a world of difference between the two. For what it’s worth I don’t think there should be a quota, I believe the systems should be in place to allow people to progress on their own merits from whatever their background.

“Look at it this way: attempts to cram several generations of thickos through A Levels has simply reduced the credibility of this qualification and has required the absurd development where university admin tutors now have to find some way of discovering who the 'real' A grades have been obtained by. Higher Ed in the UK is now inflated to ridiculous proportions with approximately 60-65% of those attending actually not deserving to do so mainly because they are thick, thick, thick“.

I struggle to understand what this has to do with the number of Oxbridge graduates filling so many senior roles or their recruiting policies. I agree that there has been a dilution of qualifications over recent years but that is not relevant to the post.

“You can find as many social indicators you like to 'prove' that this is a good thing but I'd like it explained to me why it's a good use of tax payers money to support some slack-jawed half-brained dimwit through 3 years of study at Liverpool John Moores 'University' simply for him/her to emerge as unemployable then as on the day he/she entered with only a 3rd grade degree in Media Studies to show the difference. “

I actually agree with you that far too many people go to university (and will be left with debts that they can ill afford to repay). Again, however, this totally misses the point of the post.

As for your tone:-” Rather like having spent your formative years at a provincial 'Welsh' university and thereafter never having quite got over the fact” may I observe that interpersonal skills are not our strong suit.

Finally I am not, nor ever will be, your dear!!!
 
Mary
It seems fellow commenters have done the job, but let me ask you this. In the 19th century there were millions of 'slack jawed, dim-witted' people making up the working classes. A tiny, tiny percentage of the very fortunate went to university. Yet, by degrees, through primary, secondary and higher education, that huge majority classed as illiterate working class, was reduced hugely to the extent that there is now an immensely expanded educated population who can in no way be described in your sneering, dismissive terms. Yet, if your implication that such people do not deserve to go to university had been followed, the proletariat would still be as lumpen and, you(unless you spring from the real upper stratum) would probably be among them. And btw, I did not consider my piece on obesity to be a 'rant'; I was asking for it to be recognised as an addiction as serious as drugs or booze. But maybe my tone was a bit 'ranty';important thing that... tone.
 
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