The downsides of Cambridge’s college system
Like being pooled to Girton, for example
Cambridge is perceived to be one of the best universities in the world, and something that is so rare about it is its college system. Although there are many positives to it, the fetishizing of Oxbridge within the UK education system means that its many negative aspects are never discussed.
One of my friends from Johns once told me ‘you’ve won the lottery of life if you’re at Johns’, and that, surely, demonstrates the most unfavourable aspect of the college system at Cambridge. Although we are all members of the same university, it propagates and encourages beliefs that students at certain colleges are superior to others, and that students at certain colleges are more worthy of their place here.
It would appear that this belief has foundation in fact. Whereas at other universities, money is spent throughout the university as a whole, each college has differing wealth, and each is able to adopt its own rules and policies which in turn creates injustice. Richer colleges are able to offer financial support for students in the form of book and academic travel grants, which poorer colleges such as my own, Magdalene, simply cannot provide. It is therefore no surprise that the richest Cambridge colleges regularly top the Topkin’s table, whilst poorer ones are left at the bottom. When we all pay the same amount of money for tuition fees, this is a situation that strikes me as highly unfair.
This attitude filters down into other aspects of prejudice, notably with location snobbery. An occasion springs to mind when one of my school friends remarked ‘Magdalene is so far out – what a trek!’ when I informed him what college I attended. Yes, it’s not so close that you can see the individual eyelashes of each and every tourist on King’s Parade, but it’s still only a 3-minute walk to Sainsbury’s and a 5-minute cycle to lectures.
Many also seem to think that the older, more traditional colleges are of a higher calibre to newer ones, evidence of which is found in Memebridge’s ‘You vs the guy she told you not to worry about memes’. Yes, the older colleges are aesthetically more pleasing, but the ‘meme culture’ is subliminally spreading the feeling that those colleges that are modern are inferior.
Then, there is the matter of the female colleges, which suffer from intense misconceptions, notably that their members are all aggressively hormonal and desperate for male company; a stereotype epitomised in the unfair nickname for Murray Edwards ‘Hurry t’Bedwards’. However, my friends there have also been subject to feelings from other, mixed colleges that they are not as erudite, perhaps owing to the high numbers of candidates pooled there.
There appears to be a sense within the university that those who were accepted into their first choice colleges are superior, whilst those who were pooled were simply lucky to be given a second chance at an inferior, more out-of-town college, and are therefore second-class students, irrespective of the fact that they have worked just as hard, and deserve the place just as much as everyone else.
The Cambridge college system is not entirely bad – it creates a fantastic, almost family-like support network that is unrivalled at other campus universities. However, it is not without its shortcomings, most notably the disparity between colleges, and the manner in which this facilitates a hierarchy between their respective students.
At the end of the day, we are all equally deserving to be studying here, and it’s high time we all remembered that.