Ancient insurance

September 12, 2013

Siana Bangura (Letters, 29 August) and Peter Millican (5 September) miss the point in the Oxford or Cambridge Ucas debate. The ability to apply to both ancient universities simultaneously never need imply an equal obligation on both to pursue full process for all candidates.

In 1975, against much advice that it was pointless, I insisted on the University of Cambridge as my first choice and the University of Oxford as my second, followed by three highly reputable universities in the South of England. I was interviewed that December at the Cambridge college my (local state) school had proposed by an extremely late, highly eccentric and really rather unpleasant elderly tutor. Although it was a big disappointment to be emphatically rejected, in truth I was greatly relieved, given the dislike we had evidently taken to each other and the nagging realisation that I could have been very miserable.

But having subsequently achieved the full slate in my A levels, I was invited in August to visit the Oxford college (where I subsequently took two degrees) to be interviewed by two charming, polite and engaging young tutors. Two offered candidates had failed to attain their grades; since Oxford was on my Ucas form, would I by any chance be able and willing to come in six weeks’ time? I was thrilled to accept.

Cambridge and Oxford admission will always be highly unpredictable for individual candidates. In my main subject, Cambridge regarded itself as entirely superior. I should have put Oxford first, but my parents and school had persuaded me to try for Cambridge and I did not want to disappoint. Insurance policies rarely pay off and obviously rightly, but that is never a reason not to insure, or to be allowed to insure. The option open to me – despite being rarely of practical value, I accept – should now be reinstated.

Mark H. Robson
Honorary research fellow
Lady Margaret Hall
University of Oxford

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