Eton Mess: A Response

Are Cambridge’s gates open to all? In the wake of more national press coverage for Cambridge, PRANJAL ARYA assesses who is to blame for the stereotypes that surround our university.

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On Wednesday, The Tab published a story about three Jesus students posing as Etonian applicants whose intentions were to “frighten interviewees.”

I don’t know the perpetrators, but I am a student, and I know students. To me, it’s pretty clear that they had no intention of ‘frightening’ anyone. They did what they did for their own amusement; granted, their actions were nothing short of stupid – but they were thoughtless, not malicious. The wider issue here concerns the attitudes of the national press.

The national papers will add this incident to their juicy repertoire of anti-Oxbridge anecdotes: ‘Even if you aren’t a toff, you’ll pretend that you are.’ To the rest of the country, this action is merely evidence of yet another side effect of the illness that is Oxbridge education.

But what the press do not seem to understand is that this prank is a direct result of their constant Oxbridge-bashing. It’s of course foolish to suggest that Cambridge students are incapable of thinking for themselves, but I’m willing to bet that the likelihood of such an incident occurring would be greatly reduced were it not for the ever-present headlines concerning us right-wing, red chino-wearing, stuck-up wankers. The situation has become so farcical that conforming to these stereotypes is now a joke in itself.

And what of the thousands of intellectually gifted sixth-formers that didn’t even apply to Oxbridge this year? Many of them may indeed be talented enough to warrant a place, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. And every year, thousands of students never ask. Less than half of state schoolteachers encourage even their most intellectually gifted students to apply to Oxford or Cambridge. According to a survey conducted by the Sutton Trust, this percentage is significantly lower than it was five years ago. This puzzles me, since it is with ever-increasing frequency that the national press publishes articles that urge elite institutions to admit a greater percentage of students from underprivileged backgrounds.

Ostensibly, journalists publish these articles with the intention of pressuring the admissions staff into accepting a higher number of students from state schools. Government schemes have been put in place for this exact purpose. Surely nobody should be afraid of applying to Oxbridge in this day and age?

But they are. And in fact, the press is to blame. Students and teachers up and down the country regularly read that you have to be posh to be privileged. We only discover the reality of Oxbridge – that these stereotypes are unfounded and ridiculous – once we arrive. And that’s just not right.

All intellectually gifted students should and do have a chance of earning a place here. Over half of students at Oxford (58%) and Cambridge (63%) are from state schools, yet only 7% of state schoolteachers are aware of this. I’d imagine that a lot more that 7% can tell you about the shocking stereotypes associated with the two universities. Maybe if newspapers focus on putting this right, they might actually be able to instigate positive change.

Having attended an independent school in the North, I was fortunate that my teachers were pretty clued up on all matters Oxbridge. But on my last day of school, my tutor’s only piece of advice for university life was, “Don’t turn into one of them.” If the press influences even our schoolteachers, what hope is there for those whom they teach?

It annoys me to no end knowing that there are countless students who, like me, have worked and do work extremely hard, only to see their efforts trampled on by the press. I’m only here because of my background. I’m a posh wanker. I have no perception of reality.

In this instance, the papers just don’t get it. We’re not all posh twats, and not all posh people are twats. I wish to be clear: I am in no way condoning the thoughtlessness of those Jesus students who did quite possibly harm potential students’ applications. But the national newspapers are responsible for preventing the applications of thousands of students every year.

They will call for the guilty to take responsibility for their actions, but when will the papers themselves take responsibility for creating a misleading, unfair and cruel depiction of an institution in which the vast majority of students have earned the right to study?