The History of England

from Celts through 20th century


Category: Educational System

For seven hundred years two universities dominated British education, and today they dominate more than ever, with a fame enhanced by their isolation, and their, sheer hypnotic beauty. Like Dukes, Oxford and Cambridge preserve an antique way of life in the midst of the twentieth century. Oxford and Cambridge have always provided a large number of permanent secretaries (White-hall civil servants), members of Parliament, and of the vice-chancellors of othet universities. The students of Oxbridge make up, from the outside, at least, one of the most élite élites in the world. Less than one per cent of Britain’s population go to Oxbridge but, once there, they are wooed by industry and government. A B.A. (Oxford) or B.A. (Cambridge) is quite different from an ordinary B.A.

Oxbridge is only in session half the year, and the universities adjourn for four months in the summer — a relic from medieval times, when scholars had to bring in the harvest.

Slowly the population of Oxford and Cambridge has been changing. In the nineteenth century it was a mixture of some boys who were poor and clever, and others who were rich and idle. Only since the 1870s have women been admitted, and the women’s colleges constitute only 12 per cent of the Oxbridge population, so that competition to reach them is fierce: at St Anne’s, Oxford, only a small per cent of the candidates are chosen — mainly on the results of the written examinations.

The division between Oxbridge and Redbrick is sharp, It’s absurd that four-fifths of the undergraduates should be made to feel that they’re inferior for life. In the civil service, politics and law there has been no visible breach in the supremacy of Oxbridge graduates. The division is essentially aclass one. While a large per cent of Oxbridge undergraduates come from public schools, very few of Redbrick do: many public school boys would rather go straight into business, into the services or a foreign university, than go to a Redbrick university: they prefer no degree to a Redbrick degree.

In England Redbrick has been separate from the beginning. When Oxford and Cambridge were exclusively Anglican, the new Victorian universities were built to provide a liberal education for the poorer boys and dissenters of the provinces — and to give technological training. They grew up. outside the old aristocratic pattern. Oxford and Cambridge praduates scorned them, and London University, which was founded in 1836, was referred to as that joint stock company in Gower Street!

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