Cambridge University keeps telling us its admissions policy is not socially elitist. Who’s going to believe that now?
After graduating from Cambridge this summer, I temped in a diesel factory to save money for my master’s.
They were used to students in the factory, but they didn’t get many from Cambridge. Telling people where I’d studied usually resulted in a bit of a double take and a question along the lines of: “What, the posh one?”
Yes, the posh one. But, I’d say, it’s not as posh as all that.
I’d tell them that I’d been to the local state school, and explain that it isn’t like the old days at Cambridge any more. You can’t get in just because you’re rich, or because your dad knows the right people. The admissions system isn’t perfect, but nowadays they work extremely hard to make sure they admit students based on merit, not class or family connections.
It was a spiel that came easily to me, because I’d done it many times before; on countless open days and access visits around the country throughout my degree. It didn’t always convince people – some had an impression burned too deeply to change. But sometimes it did; sometimes it made a difference.
Now I see that Prince William is soon to be admitted as a student at Cambridge on a course tailor-made for him – though his A, B and C results at A-level and 2.1 undergraduate degree are far below the standard required for the ordinary student. And I realise that all that time trying to talk people round could have been better spent.
I could, for example, have spent it smashing up restaurants in full evening dress. Or snorting champagne up my nostril through a straw. Or posting Facebook pictures of me lying on a bed of gold coins wearing a top hat. For all the difference it will now make, I may as well have spent it doing all these things – because my argument is now worthless.
It doesn’t matter that he’s actually been admitted to a 10-week “professional” course whose admissions process doesn’t directly compare to the mainstream Cambridge one – not a single news outlet has bothered to make that distinction and, to the world at large, “William’s going to Cambridge” is the only message that will be taken away.
I can no longer insist that “it’s not like the old days any more”, because the heir to the throne is about to be let in for no other reason than who his father is.
I can no longer claim that class has nothing to do with admissions, because the third-highest-ranking person in the country is being allowed to duck the entry requirements because he needs training to look after the Duchy of Cornwall – that is, preparation to be the second-highest-ranking person in the country.
Admitting Prince William is an insult to every student, whatever their background, who got into Cambridge by getting the required A-level or degree results. It’s an insult to every student whose A-levels and degree are the same or better than his, and who didn’t get a free pass to Cambridge in spite of them. And it’s an insult to everyone in the country who needs skills or training, and hasn’t had a university course personally designed for them.
I’m unsurprised at Prince William’s part in this. Much as William and Kate are heralded as “modern” royals, a bit of media-savvy and pretty hair can’t cover up the fundamental unfairness and anachronism of their position. But I am surprised, and ashamed, that my old university is still colluding in it as much as it ever did.
What I’ve been telling everyone is a lie; nothing’s really changed at all.
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