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News I went to Oxford. So why am I so angry about it? | Carole Cadwalladr
The way Oxbridge operates leads to ever more unfairness and inequality
If Britain was truly a meritocratic country and elitism didn't exist, I very much doubt that it would be my photo at the top of this page and my name over this column. I strongly suspect that I'm only here because we still live in a society in which elitism and unfairness are so entrenched that we don't even notice. It's simply the water we drink, the air that we breathe.
Because, as far as I'm aware, nobody from my Cardiff comprehensive, either before or after me, has ever become a national newspaper or broadcast journalist. And I have every reason to suspect that the reason that I got to do a job I love and pursue a career I'd always dreamed of, is because of one life-changing event: when I was 18 years old, I won a place at Oxford University.
Which is why when I read about Alastair Herron, who was rejected out of hand by Merton College, Oxford – yet achieved seven A*s this week and has had scholarship offers from Stanford and Harvard – and when I read the Guardian's story, following a freedom of information request, which showed that applicants from private schools are 9% more likely to win a place at Oxford than state school candidates with the same grades, I quietly despair.
Because going to Oxford changed my life. I witnessed, up close, the sort of confidence and entitlement that the combination of money, status and a private education confer. And I imbibed just enough of it to get me here. You cannot accuse me of chippiness. I played the system and I won. And yet, increasingly, I've come to believe that Oxford and Cambridge are part of the problem, not the solution. They are bulwarks against the possibility of creating a more equal society; reifiers of a status quo that sees money and influence breed money and influence.
Five years ago, I wrote about the problem of Oxbridge. The problem being that its graduates dominate all public life, and those graduates are overwhelmingly, disproportionately drawn from private schools. (Just over 7% of children are privately educated, yet 40% of those at Oxford and Cambridge have been.) But I still believed that having two world-class centres of academic excellence, blessed with exquisite architecture, free to all, even those from Cardiff comps, was a wonderful thing.
I believed that if only more state school children applied, and if teaching staff became more skilled at spotting potential, these institutions could be motors of social mobility, levellers of playing fields, engines of progress, enablers of the kind of meritocratic society I want to live in.
I know. So naive. Because it really doesn't work like that. Nothing is changing. It's only getting worse. The Financial Times reported last week that private school fees have risen by 83% in a decade. Even the elite is getting more elite. And Oxford and Cambridge are part of the mechanism by which that elite consolidates its power and augments its influence. A private education and an Oxbridge degree are still a Willy Wonka-style golden ticket to crème of the crèmiest jobs, careers and prospects.
Oxford and Cambridge are a problem. The status they confer is a problem. The privilege they extend is a problem. And allowing a few oiks to scrabble through is no solution. We, the people, pay for these universities' existence. And yet the people are barely even getting a look in. (Surrey sends almost as many young people to Oxbridge as the whole of Wales and the north-east combined, for flip's sake.) It isn't to do with talent or ability. That's what last week's Guardian story tells us. That's what the league table of college acceptances shows (why Mansfield College managed to take 84.7% state school pupils against Brasenose's 49%, for example).
It is not rocket science. It's about basic fairness and equality. And without those, Oxbridge will continue to provide the stamp of quality that a privileged elite uses to shore up its vice-like grip on jobs, wealth, property, power and influence.
So who is taking the Michael on free speech now?
Michael O'Leary, founder of Ryanair, impassioned advocate of free speech and self-declared consumer champion, is suing Channel 4. Suing , and the Daily Mail, Belfast Telegraph and Daily Mirror.
Nice one, Mikey. Although sacking a pilot, John Goss, who'd been with the airline for 25 years and was two months off retirement, is a cute touch. The reason? Goss had voiced safety concerns to Channel 4's Dispatches.
Whistleblower? Disgruntled employee out for revenge? Let the courts decide. But it's nice to see a man who takes his right "to say what I think" and be "disrespectful towards what is perceived to be authority" up to telling the Irish prime minister he's a "gobshite" taking a such a stand against, you know, saying what you think.
Still, he didn't sue me when I called him a twat. So I think we can all agree there's a consensus on that one. But let's leave him with his words of wisdom on employee relations. To those who would say: "My staff is my most important asset," he counters: "Bullshit. Staff is your biggest cost. We all employ lazy bastards who need a kick up the backside."
John Goss. Lazy bastard in need of a kick? Or Michael O'Leary's nemesis?
Be glad we're not all in the same boat
Oh, pity the rich and famous. No, really. For of the many myths they try to propagate, not the least of which is that they have more money than the rest of us because they are smarter than us, I have one word to say to you: superyacht.
Because no matter how your summer is going, at least you're not trapped aboard some gold-encrusted yacht in the company of an ageing silverback and a troop of hyperplastinated females, endlessly circling the Med like some plague ship repeatedly refused port. Or to put it another way, on holiday with Simon Cowell.
For while yachts are a tremendous boon for the world's paparazzi, offering endless opportunities to shoot young, female primates displaying their rumps to older males of higher status, what casual readers of MailOnline may not realise is that as well as being the World's Most Expensive Holiday (Cowell, the chump, is reportedly paying £1.3m for his summer break), they also have some claim to being the World's Worst Holiday.
You've heard of cabin fever, right? Well, throw in the vibrations of two 2,000+ diesel horsepower engines, some cream carpet and objets d'art that look like they're from Matalan, and then stay there for a month.
In fairness, the rooms on Cowell's yachts are not dissimilar to those you might find in a Travelodge, just smaller. But then, a superyacht is basically a Saga cruise ship, just smaller. And if that has never appealed, it's possibly not worth prostituting yourself across the pages of OK! magazine or sucking up to a Russian oligarch.
Take a nice motion-sickness-free break somewhere like Cornwall and count your blessings. The forecast might be dicey, but at least you're not on Cowell's plague ship for all eternity.