I went to Bristol for three years and it was shit compared to Cambridge
Isobel Cockerell argues that the Cambridge experience is undeniably superior.
It has been six weeks since I showed up in the oasis of Cambridge after the hellhole, or indeed K-hole, that was my bog standard Russell Group university.
My second fresher’s week could not have been more different from my first.
My first, at Bristol, was largely spent in ‘cave raves’ having my tongue chewed off by a beatboxer, before passing out in my cell-like room with a Domino’s mighty meaty for a pillow.
My arrival in Cambridge, meanwhile, involved a three course dinner party where all the girls wore black polo necks and all the boys wore… black polo necks.
They earnestly discussed the ever widening gulf between high academia and popular culture, labouring over the point that Zadie Smith was the only one bridging it. To round off the evening, an engraving of Ely Cathedral came spontaneously crashing down from the mantelpiece onto someone’s bereted head. What larks.
There are some things I do miss about Bristol. There was a kebab van called Jason Donervan.
No, I’m being unfair. In fact, the city of Bristol itself was a charming, cosmopolitan, diverse, if a little damp, place to live. Unfortunately its antithesis, and very worst feature, was the great festival of mediocrity that is its university.
I’m not talking about elitism, either. Bristol is, statistically, in fact a more socially elitist university than Cambridge. Last year, Cambridge accepted 63% state school applicants, almost 4% more than Bristol, which only accepted 59.4%.
And you could feel it. Harrow boys moved in packs. Old Etonians swarmed wherever you looked. Heathfield girls stuck together in exclusive posses for the entire three years of what was supposed to be one of the most enriching, horizon-broadening experiences of their lives.
While there were no ironically misogynistic bacchanals in the form of drinking societies, it was only a small mercy. Because for your average braying toff, laddish Sunday nights in Bristol were spent drowning in Ketamine, not Korma.
And what about the supposedly real reason students are forking out thirty grand to attend university, Oxbridge or otherwise? The education. Well, don’t get me wrong, many of my old tutors were world-class experts in their field, whom I greatly admire. The quality of the teaching was good.
It was the quantity that was pitiful. The resulting enthusiasm of the students was non existent. My housemates actually used to laugh at me for doing the reading for my seminar. But I had fuck all else to do: I was set a grand total of eight essays in my final year. Eight. Many Cambridge students have twice that in a single term. English students didn’t have exams, either – something I on the whole actually agree with, but it meant that there was literally nothing to do.
If, unfathomably, you wanted to get some work done, you often physically couldn’t anyway. There was no UL, no faculty libraries. Just one library for the whole of Arts and Social Sciences.
Known unaffectionately as the ASS, it was utterly devoid of all the elements one might come to expect from a library: books, natural light, and places to work. It was always rammed with people dejectedly reading buzzfeed articles or sheltering from the incessant rain.
People at Cambridge often complain that they wish things were ‘more relaxed’ here. I basically took a three-year bubble bath at Bristol. I can tell you now, it wasn’t stimulating, and you’re not missing out.
The entire time I was there, one prevailing question burned constantly. Was this all an absurdly expensive scam? Here were thousands of apparently clever young people paying through the nose for higher education, gaining little more from the experience than various substances to stuff straight back up their nostrils.
Bristol was a vacuum of intellect, a celebration of apathy. On the whole, no one gave a shit about anything. They were too numb, too bored, too privileged and complacent to care.
So when you – inevitably – win your first nobel prize, consider not endowing anything to your College. Let’s not further widen the chasm between Cambridge and the rest.
If you really care about academia, give those poor, dispossessed Oxbridge rejects a chance.
Give Bristol your money – because the millions of pounds they already receive from their own students – and the taxpayer – is apparently not enough to run an institution worth bothering with at all.