Applied mythology

July 11, 2013

Even as a mere master’s student at St Anne’s College, Oxford, I was astounded by the antiquated and conflicting claims made by Anthony Rodriguez (Letters, June).

First he refers to the “bizarre ordeal of choosing four colleges” when applying to Oxbridge. Presumably Rodriguez is unaware that you now choose only one as an undergraduate, a choice that makes no difference to your chances of getting in. If he found choosing a college an ordeal, I shudder to think how he felt about the rest of the application process.

He implies that leaving your application to the “pool” is also an ordeal, yet random allocation (his alternative suggestion) would be exactly the same, except that you wouldn’t necessarily see the college or meet its tutors.

Rodriguez also dismisses the colleges’ continuing academic role: presumably this is why they maintain and expand their libraries year on year? He ignores the fact that much teaching continues to take place in the colleges (with only certain ones offering certain subjects).

Second, he appears unaware that the departmental academics he would have interview candidates are the college tutors, and bizarrely thinks that such interviews would not be the “much-feared grilling” undertaken by the tutors. Does he think they would and should be less rigorous? Why would an interview in a department be any less intimidating? And why does he believe that interviews today do not focus on the rigours of Oxbridge degree programmes? Academic matters are all they consider.

Third, he never explains why the college-based application process deters state-school pupils from beyond the Home Counties: why is it harder for someone from the North to grasp than the South? Has he any empirical evidence to back this up?

Rodriguez peddles myths, myths reliant on ideas that were once true, or had a kernel of truth, but have since been swept away as Oxbridge has reformed. His letter does nothing to encourage the one thing that would do most to widen access: encourage state-school pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply in the first place.

Edward Hicks
St Anne’s College, Oxford

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