By Zahra Farzanekhoo
When applying to Oxford, most of us had to make a decision as to which college to apply for. There are 43, including PPHs, to choose from and the choice we would make would dictate each of our respective experiences of Oxford for the entirety of our degrees.
Therefore, it would appear to be an important decision. However, most students are unaware of the inequality between colleges, especially when it comes to funding. Whilst the collegiate system of the university should continue, aspects that can have tangible effects on student experience, such as college funding, should be pooled to remedy this inequality.
Earlier this month, Cherwell revealed analysis showing the impact endowment has on how much a college invests in reading material for their library, and the subsequent effect it has on their place in the Norrington table. It is very clear that students at wealthier colleges have a different experience when it comes to exam performance but it is not surprising and unfortunately, the effect of this disparity in college endowment does not stop there.
Financial help with purchasing textbooks, choir tour costs, costs associated with student sport, travel costs to conferences, and hardship support are just several areas that vary between colleges. These are costs that can make or break a student’s experience. It can dictate whether they can fully enjoy the opportunities available to them during their short time here.
Further, low-income students are disproportionately affected by this decentralised and fractured system of college funding.Pooling resources will mean that all students have equal access to help, an outcome that is justified especially as the college choice is often arbitrary.
The burden is on the student to make sure they are informed. Except colleges do not release the information necessary to ensure this. The severity of this choice is further heightened when we take into consideration the fact that the university itself actively propagates the idea that applicants will not be adversely affected by their choice.
Pooling college funding will help alleviate the financial burden imposed on unassuming students. Students are not given the necessary information to make an informed choice and even if they were, the college pooling system has the capacity to render any choice they may make using such information meaningless.
The discrepancy between college funding is too large and the impact should not be ignored. The university ought to recognise this shortcoming in the collegiate system and pooling resources can aid in making the university more accessible and fair.
NOT TO POOL
By Troels Boesen
For nearly 80 years, Gordon Brown is the only prime minister with a university degree not to come from Oxford. Even relative to the Russell Group, an Oxbridge degree boosts your expected lifetime earnings by 12%. Since the QS world universities ranking first came out, Oxford has never dropped below 6th. This year we scored an even 100 out of 100in academic reputation.
All of this is just a complicated way of saying something really simple: we are incredibly fortunate. There is simply no argument. We have access to the UK’s largest library system, some of the best academics in the world, and a spectrum of societies and sports clubs that allow you to pursue basically any interest you could possibly have. And at this point someone raises the inevitable question: Is the playing field completely equal? Do all colleges prioritise in the same way?
When inequalities get so big that people practically no longer live in the same world, it fundamentally threatens the stability of society. When we consider the big perspective, the debate about equality is meaningful and important.
However, not every debate that makes sense in the big perspective, makes sense when applied to microscopic subsections of society too.
The system certainly is not perfect. Education at a lower level is still not as good as it should be. There are still psychological barriers to be broken down. Oxford life is stressful, and it can be difficult to adjust. Even when we take all of this into account, there is no two ways about it: If you are an Oxford student, you are resourceful in one way or another.
If it could reasonably be shown that some colleges offer so little support in the form of grants for sport or culture and prizes that students with less economic capital genuinely could not take advantage of the huge opportunity, then it would make sense for the University to provide some support as a lower boundary.
But undermining the college system by centralising funds, taking steps to homogenise colleges by removing the right to prioritise locally, all for the sake of making the world’s most fortunate young people more equal– that is frankly absurd.
It is as true in politics as in any other area of life: priorities matter. And we must consider what signals we choose to send. Everyone will sometimes get too caught up in their own issues. That is understandable.
But part of going to university, part of growing as a person, is learning how to identify what is a real problem and what is not.
Unfreedom, poverty, and war is. Inequality across Oxford colleges is not.