The curious case of the St Andrews student

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The idea of an ‘average’ St Andrews student is a strange concept. For a university with such a global intake (the prospectus seems to use the word diversity approximately 8 billion times) there seems to be a remarkably simplistic view outside the university of the kind of person which the university takes in.

Regard the bizarre world of The StudentRoom and you will end up with an idea of a St Andrews student as one who rises slowly from his seat in Taste, quickly saving the latest update to their half-finished Novella on the life of a Russian farmer in 1928 who is increasingly disillusioned with communist policy, swanning over to the counter in order to order his eighteenth soya latte of the day which shall be strained evenly through his ironic goatee.

The reason for such attempts at bohemian life lie, obviously, in their own failure to successfully get into Oxbridge and they have therefore become consumed by hatred of the elitist culture which they themselves grew up in.

The truth really is somewhat different. There is a glorious schizophrenia to be celebrated here, from the man who professes his love of death metal and bands such as ‘Cultured Fuck!’ and ‘These Syphilitic Dragons’ while ordering his third Gin and Tonic, to the quiet Japanese girl who says nothing in tutorials yet will beat seven bells of shite out of anything with a pulse once a lacrosse stick is shoved into her hand. The StudentRoom can’t prepare you for that.

That said, amongst the British contingent there is some level of truth to be found in the ‘Not-Quite-Oxbridge’ idea.

A highly scientific survey conducted by me in the pub (see earlier piece on Procrastination) revealed that 86% of St Andrews students failed to get into Oxbridge. While perhaps slightly methodologically flawed, the point still stands that quite a few of us have ended up on this far-flung coast of Fife because we didn’t do quite as well as we perhaps could have when being grilled on our subjects by a man wearing tweed with dust on his knuckles and a cobweb over his eyelid.

Now, I say far flung because for many the drive up here was a gruelling 6-10 hour journey which started somewhere leafy in Kent. Some of us, however, may as well be hardened residents of Cupar in the eyes of some of our counterparts. There are people from every continent milling around this small town and if that isn’t something amazing then I don’t know what is.

In one evening you could start off downing Jägerbombs with a Scandinavian (who is likely to be 2 foot taller than you, better dressed, and with the chiselled face of a minor deity in comparison to your pathetic, sweaty pork-like visage) and end it sharing a disappointing 3am pizza with an Ethiopian. I know. I’ve done this.

Of course the outside view has not been helped by things such as the now-infamous Gowngate saga. Gowngate, of course, is the term I’m coining for the University Challenge Incident. Possible alternatives included Frostgate, Whoregate (not to be confused with a suburb of Amsterdam) and the infinitely charming Twatgate.

The fact that this happened almost simultaneously with the release of The Riot Club, where a group of posh bastards go around a small British town being posh bastards for 106 minutes like a quainter, more picturesque version of Wolf of Wall Street is rather unfortunate, and incidents such as this have no doubt helped along the kind of vitriol thrown at St Andrews students.

Incidentally, as historical as they are, the gowns do look horrendous. For the approximate price of a set of lungs on the black market you can buy a gown the same colour as an Irishman who has been sunbathing in the Kalahari Desert for twelve years, and with a texture not unlike a dog blanket. Clearly whichever committee responsible for that particular design was formed entirely of the kind of people who wear Crocs and have a penchant for gaudy knitwear and net curtains.

The truth, though, is that whole idea of St Andrews is wrong. While the university has to look at entrance statistics, which still lag far behind other universities for inclusiveness, the sheer number of different  languages and nationalities you hear and see around the university is a beautiful example of how a university can throw together a group of people from all over the globe and, largely, succeed.

In truth St Andrews students are a strange bunch, if perhaps a bit more isolated from a ‘normal’ town or city than is healthy at times. But we are thrown together from various different backgrounds and countries into one strange, sometimes chaotic but always colourful whole.

And that is something to be proud of.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I find the whole “Not-Quite-Oxbridge’’ idea to be rather pathetic. Only the most insecure people at Oxbridge refer to those at other universities as rejects. People at middling universities, knowing the Oxbridge reputation is unassailable, might espouse the idea about students at other universities in the top tier out of jealousy and a desire to level out the rest. However, it always surprises me when someone from St Andrews self-identifies as an Oxbridge reject. You’re at one of the most elite universities in the country, if not the world, and getting there is a serious accomplishment. By saying “quite a few of us have ended up on this far-flung coast of Fife because we didn’t do quite as well as we perhaps could have when being grilled on our subjects,” you’re implying that St Andrews is naturally lesser. Have some pride in your alma mater. You won’t find many students at Dartmouth, Georgetown, or many other elite universities in the United States identifying as Harvard or Stanford rejects. Everyone knows these universities, like St Andrews, are amongst the elite and it would look foolish to cast them in a negative light. In short, British St Andreans who happened to be rejected by Oxbridge, that’s enough of the self-loathing already.

    • No-one at Oxbridge refers to others as Oxbridge rejects. That title is one bestowed upon students by themselves. Oxbridge really isn’t that elitist. Aside from a few snobby twats here and there, no-one really cares what other universities are doing.

  2. I believe the author being in a place with 86% Oxbridge rejects says much more about them than the university as a whole. In my experience the figure is inverted, and they’re much less consumed with self-loathing, too.

  3. So what if we’re Oxbridge rejects?
    I only heard people refer to that term in the first week of Fresher’s.

    It’s about time we embrace that term as St Andrews is a university which is good but certainly not one which is anywhere near the top 5 in the UK. Heck, we’re not even the best in Scotland.

    We may be culturally, but we’re certainly not socio-economically diverse. Just cause we’re rejects doesn’t mean we should act like them.

    • Here’s an example of the aforementioned self-loathing disguised as self-deprecation, with a dash of the nonsensical. Rachel starts off by saying the Oxbridge reject label doesn’t really matter, as it’s something only talked about during Fresher’s. She then goes on to say it’s actually a label worth embracing because of her views on St Andrews’ status relative to other universities. She closes by claiming the university isn’t the right kind of diverse, but moves on to something seemingly unrelated—we’re all rejects, but we don’t need to act like them. What a mess.

      In reality, her facts are off and she misses the point. St Andrews is one of the most elite universities in the UK. It has placed in or around the top 5 in domestic UK league tables, and placed as the best in Scotland, for nearly a decade. It has one of the highest median entry scores in the UK and this, again, has been the case for nearly a decade. The university draws talented students and faculty from around the globe and is renowned for world-leading research, especially in the Art and Humanities. It seems odd that Rachel would overlook these facts.

      I won’t speak to the diversity piece because her point is unclear. However, the point she misses is that St Andreans who refer to themselves as rejects of any sort are doing their fellow students and the university a grave disservice. Plenty of us were accepted by Oxbridge, but chose to attend St Andrews. Some were rejected by Oxbridge, but thankfully were accepted by St Andrews and chose to attend. Lots of St Andrews postgraduates went to the best universities in the world for their undergraduate study. St Andreans self-identifying as Oxbridge rejects makes no sense, especially considering the pool of talent at St Andrews and what an accomplishment it is to be accepted.

      • I would like to emphasise that there is a difference between self-loathing and accepting the reality.

        The “elite” universities in the UK are those which rank highly in the international league tables. National league tables are useful but place too much emphasis on subjective criterias. Therefore Edinburgh university is the highest ranked university in Scotland. In “arts and humanities”, Edinburgh again ranks higher (I refer you to the QS rankings). You can use the excuse that St Andrews is a smaller university which I acknowledge, however it still doesn’t deny Edinburgh’s position as the best university in Scotland.

        I have yet to meet anyone who has been accepted by Oxbridge and has chosen St Andrews over Oxbridge so I find it hard to believe that “plenty accepted St Andrews over Oxbridge”. In fact, I have met students who have been rejected by Dundee but accepted by St Andrews.

        The last paragraph refers to the lack of socio-economic diversity within the university.

        There is no doubt that St Andrews is a good university, definitely within the top 15 of UK universities. But I think it is unhealthy for students here to adopt a similar mindset to yours so that they can inflate their pride.

        As I said with my last sentence, “just cause we’re rejects doesn’t mean we should act like them”. We shouldn’t get hung up over that term and move on from it and enjoy the student life at St Andrews.

        • I agree with Rachel, St Andrews is a UK top 15 university. St Andrews fares well in domestic league tables due to being a very small university. The World rankings (ARWU, THE, QS) confirm that St Andrews can’t possibly be a UK top 10, let alone a top 5. The domestic rankings also don’t measure academic prestige (e.g. REF), they merely look at ratios of staff/students, spending per student, entry tariff scores, all of which favour small to medium size universities. Part of me thinks St Andrews has deliberately chased the UK rankings to make up for past failures in the World rankings, and most universities care far more about the latter.

  4. There is a difference between self-loathing and accepting reality, and the reality you’re presenting is skewed.

    You argue elite universities in the UK are those ranking highly in international league tables. Citing the QS league table, you therefore see Edinburgh as the best university in Scotland. For you, national league tables—the ones that regularly place St Andrews top five in the UK—are useful, yet flawed. Let’s take a look at the QS league table, which lists the following universities as top eight in the UK (descending order):

    Cambridge
    Imperial
    Oxford
    UCL
    KCL
    Edinburgh
    Bristol
    Manchester

    St Andrews places 88th in the world, just between the LSE and Durham (reasonably good company) in the QS. All international league tables have methodological problems and tend to overvalue large universities, but I digress. The following US universities rank below—in some cases, well below—St Andrews:

    Dartmouth
    Rice
    Virginia
    Emory
    Vanderbilt
    Georgetown
    Tufts
    Notre Dame

    Would you say none of these US universities are elite? Are not Edinburgh, Bristol, and Manchester far more elite than these US universities? Let’s not read too much into international league tables if the answer to either of these questions is “no,” which is likely the case.

    Let’s now look at where the most capable applicants tend to matriculate in the UK. The following universities have the highest median entry scores (descending order):

    Cambridge
    Oxford
    Imperial
    LSE
    Durham
    St Andrews
    UCL
    Warwick

    It seems the most capable applicants tend to view St Andrews as sufficiently elite. Four of the QS top eight—KCL, Edinburgh, Bristol, and Manchester—don’t seem to make the cut in their eyes. Incidentally, the QS ranking lists Dundee 230th in the world and it has the 35th highest median entry score in the UK. Unless your friend was an aspiring medic, his or her Dundee rejection was likely an anomaly.

    St Andreans should be proud of their acceptance, no inflation necessary. As a small university, St Andrews competes well in international rankings, placing well above other elite universities; it’s regularly listed amongst the UK top five in domestic rankings. St Andreans are amongst the most capable students in the UK.

    My point isn’t about getting “hung up” over the term “reject.” There are a handful of elite universities—those that attract the best students—in the UK and St Andrews is one of them. It’s that St Andreans self-identifying as Oxbridge rejects comes off as obsessive, unaware of their abilities and good fortune, or both.

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