There seem to be biannual spikes of interest in Oxbridge: one in September, when journalists start to think about those applying and give out advice about how to get in; and one in January, when we get the slew of stories about those highly qualified students who missed out on a place.
In all of these stories, there still seems to be the long-perpetuated idea of Oxbridge as a mythical place, a closed society becoming increasingly difficult to break into or understand. The Oxbridge image is about as old as the universities themselves. After Googling ‘image of Oxbridge’, images of suited applicants and students appear, followed by a range of articles, three of which include the word ‘toff’, with others focusing on ‘elitism’ and ‘negativity’. People view the universities as increasingly detached from society, with their own rules, norms and customs. This image can have a direct impact on potential students’ perceptions of the universities – just how many potentially excellent students are being affected by this image?
The issue of access is a complex thing. The media image of Oxbridge is difficult for the universities to shake off, but both are doing a great amount to increase access. Both universities allocate each individual college an area of the UK, which then aims to raise aspirations in this area, there are plenty of online resources at both universities and both have very strong bursary schemes for poorer students. Schools can also help address access issues. A lot relies on chance, with regional differences, stretched school resources, and the type of school itself all affecting the school’s ability to prepare students for Oxbridge. Schools should not be afraid to suggest Oxbridge to academically successful and engaged students.
Their aspirations can be raised to encourage Oxbridge as a possibility. Perpetuating the image of Oxbridge as unattainable and alien harms everyone: it reduces the efforts of those who have worked so hard to get there, and it only continues to discourage those who should be applying. Hard work, dedication and passion are reasons why people get into, and then succeed at, Oxbridge. This is sometimes dependent on background and schooling, but more often than not it is down to each individual student putting in the effort and savouring their learning. If students are dedicated to their subject, and to the application process, then any potential student should be excited about applying to these prestigious universities.
See our Access Scheme page for more information on how we can support potential applicants to Oxbridge.