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Why the obsession with ‘Oxbridge’?

(8 Posts)
kenchurch Tue 20-Mar-18 08:04:23

As a foreigner living in London, lots of my friends DC seem to be aiming for the magical Oxbridge. Some are even seem obsessed!

In my home country all universities are the same and it just depends where you live, to which you go to.

What is it?
Why is it seen as something so impressive?
Is it as hard as my friends make out?

FordPerfect Tue 20-Mar-18 10:19:01

Looking at the World Universities Ranking for 2018, Oxford comes in 1st, Cambridge 2nd, Imperial 8th, UCL 16th, LSE 25th, Edinburg 27th, KCL 36th (I have just looked at top 50) so I guess the ranking is part of its appeal, as well as its relative affordability (rents are cheaper than many other places such as Durham and London universities), there are often generous grants for students from low income backgrounds, both cities are considered attractive and are walkable, they are also close to London and have higher contact time through the tutorial system. I hope that answers the why.

How hard it is to get in is a tricky one - it depends on the course. In broad terms, you need very good GCSEs and predicted A Levels, to do well in entrance tests (where applicable), to perform well enough at interview, sometimes to submit school essays. I think the stamina and consistency that this requires make it more difficult than most other unis. That said, Medicine anywhere, seems to be tough.

That said, we are very lucky in the UK to have lots of excellent unis which rival Oxbridge/are better/more suitable/cater for certain subjects, especially for STEM ones.

If you were in USA, you would find a parallel situation re Ivy Leagues among parents and young people. What I like about the UK is that people don't automatically go to their local uni. My nephew is at uni in France and goes to his local one in a large provincial town and although it costs next to nothing, the education he is getting is not good.

May I ask what your home country is?

BubblesBuddy Wed 21-Mar-18 10:14:22

The French have the Grand Ecoles. These are very tough to get into and a world away from standard French universities. Many countries have a top tier of universities. Japan definitely does. The pressures to get into the best universities there is immense.

Some universities have a global name. This makes them very attractive. For anyone living here, there are other excellent universities and hopefully students are not obsessed about Oxbridge. It’s a recipe for mental disaster if they are and don’t get in!

Arapaima Wed 21-Mar-18 10:26:06

It’s the same in the US with Harvard and Yale.

If you have a culture where people leave home to go to uni, then they have to choose the uni based on something (eg league tables and reputation), whereas if everyone goes to the local uni then this system wouldn’t have developed.

I was at Cambridge in the 1990s and my experience is that my fellow students really were very intelligent! I was a scholarship girl at a highly academic and selective independent school in London, but I felt somewhat out of my depth at Cambridge. (I did end up getting a 2:1 by the skin of my teeth.)

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 21-Mar-18 12:36:21

All universities definitely aren't the same in the UK, nor do they pretend to be. There aren't set rules about what courses will contain, or how they'll be assessed. So you could do what looks like the same subject (say History) and it would be totally different in different places.

Oxford and Cambridge are very highly academically selective, but they also have resources that not all universities have. For example, each has a copyright library, which means that you can get copies of virtually any book you like.

I definitely wouldn't say Oxbridge are the best for everything, and many universities would be better for certain subjects or certain types of course. But it isn't the case in the UK that you can just apply anywhere and expect the same experience or the same outcomes.

I get really het up about this, both when people obsess over Oxbridge without realising that they might be better off elsewhere, and when people blindly apply for any old university without understanding that the choice they make matters. It's hugely correlated with social and educational privilege, so a lot of bright students who could do really well don't get the advice that would really help them make a sensible choice.

Needmoresleep Wed 21-Mar-18 12:50:30

Well said LRD.

OP also has a point. It was very noticeable that when DS was applying, that British people, including relatives with limited understanding of the University system, seemed to consider not getting a place at Cambridge as a failure. Whereas those from elsewhere, and his school cohort was very international, were quick to congratulate him on gaining a place on a well regarded course in London. He is now studying for a Masters, where 38 or the 39 on his course are not British, though lots are European. I assume the UK/non UK balance at the equally well regarded Oxford Masters is quite different. Who knows why, and it does not matter, as long as you do the research and pick the course that suits most.

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 21-Mar-18 13:11:32


I don't know more than anecdata about Oxbridge masters courses, and my info is skewed by the fact I do English Lit and that tends to have a bias towards English speakers, but cohorts I've known at both Oxford and Cambridge have had a substantial proportion of non-Brit students. Not as international as LSE by any means, but often up to half non-Brit.

Needmoresleep Wed 21-Mar-18 13:43:12

Yes 38 of the 39 are not British, so DS became a sort of mythical unicorn. Its really not clear why a top ranked UK course would attract so few British students, which is why I was assuming that the rest were at Oxford.

DS would argue that his course is the best. Which is as it should be. I assume Oxford students would argue the same, and neither group would be wrong. He and a good number of his peers seem to have picked up good offers from the US for further study, so no evidence that not going to Oxford has disadvantaged them. Except through a failure to impress relatives.

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