Purpose as well as privilege 2

August 14, 2008

Higher education still displays the English class system red in tooth and claw more dramatically than any other sector of employment. All difference must magically be transformed into hierarchy. The Oxbridge magic wand creating social and career advantage is rightly challenged by a range of critical voices.

The provost of University College London, Malcolm Grant, states (The week in higher education, 31 July), the "obsession" with getting pupils into Oxbridge is "mad" and "harking back to a class war". It is "often driven by the parents' aspirations, not the children's best interests".

In the same issue, Mary Evans relates the visit of one group of inner-city young women to the University of Cambridge who spoke of its "absolute strangeness". They did not view the august dining rooms as something to aspire to or work towards. "The worlds of Harry Potter and Oxbridge have many of the same points of cultural reference."

Meanwhile, in the appointments section, the firm of Heidrick and Struggles (not Muggles) seeks to recruit a new "Head of House" (not Slitherin) for Girton College, Cambridge. Applicants for the "Mistress-ship" can be either men or women. Anyone for a game of Quidditch?

Simon Newton, York.

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