Yes, you read that correctly! All of our collective hard work has paid off, and St Andrews has finally beaten Cambridge in a higher education metric. St Andrews, after decades (or maybe centuries?) of clutching onto the coattails of England’s most prestigious and ancient universities, has finally managed to break through and make a name for itself. I never thought I’d live to see the day where we ranked higher than Oxford or Cambridge. It’s almost enough to bring a tear to my eye.
Personally, I think we should all be immensely proud that St Andrews now (finally!) admits a higher proportion of students from private schools than Cambridge does. It’s all very well and good to joke and boast about how posh, wealthy, and privileged our university is, but now we have the irrefutable and concrete proof. I’d never thought I’d live to see such a revolution in higher education. Have a glass of Dom Pérignon on me, Sally!
I first saw this ground-breaking news story in Fife Today, which recently reported that 60.4 per cent of St Andrews students starting in the 2017/18 academic year were educated by the state. This is despite the state educating 93 per cent of British school children, so I’m doubly impressed at the extent to which the University has managed to separate the wheat from the chaff. For the same academic year, however, the state school intake for Cambridge University (or, as I now like to call it, Commonbridge University) was a whopping 62.6 per cent. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
I like to think that this is not just a victory for our most hallowed of institutions, but for the wider country, too. I can already see Prince William cackling at the news, and itching to invite his old Cantabrigian father to dinner at Kensington Palace just so he can gloat. (Oh, and to remind Prince Charles that he only left Cambridge with a 2:2.) Not only this, but I think the news genuinely strengthens the case for Scottish independence. The Jocks can out-posh the English now, it seems, so they really don’t need us anymore. Go on, Sturgeon; bugger off and take the poshos with you, if you please.
Don’t worry: I’m only joshing with you. (I also had the misfortune of being educated by the state.) Nevertheless, I can’t help but crack a wry smile at this bittersweet news. The University, to say the least, didn’t exactly welcome the news, and in response chose to emphasise the considerable work it does to widen access to the university, as they should. I wholeheartedly agree with the University spokesperson that said “these figures give a very narrow and misleading view of St Andrews’ considerable progress in widening access to higher education”.
Not that I can’t see the temptation to be outraged at this news. St Andrews is often caricatured as a bastion of privilege and entrenched wealth, and these findings certainly seem to lend credence to this particular view of the university, especially since the average private school fees have recently risen above £17,000 a year. This is, simply put, loadsamoney, and the fact of the matter is that only a very exclusive portion of the UK population can afford to pay it. Surely it can’t be fair that St Andrews over-recruits from this demographic, and unjustly locks out the British masses?
Well, before barricades appear on Market Street, I think it’s worth considering what this actually means. I’ll never understand why some people think that attending private school is a good or reliable barometer or wealth. Not every independent school is like Eton or Harrow; in rural areas, for example, private schools can be very modest, and sometimes represent the only viable option for a child’s education.
Similarly, attending state school doesn’t automatically make someone a proletarian hero. There are plenty of London state school catchment areas, for example, where the average house price can be twice, three times, or even four times the national average. I’m not sure anyone would say that a student attending Chelsea comprehensive was less privileged than someone on maximum bursaries at a small private school.
As Disraeli once said, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics, so take these figures with a pinch of salt, and not get too alarmed.