Research by Palatinate has revealed that the idea that the vast majority of Durham students are ‘Oxbridge rejects’ is in need of some serious reconsideration.
Out of 103 students who were surveyed, 58 said they had applied to Oxbridge, much lower than previous estimates of 80 or 90 percent of students.
Although inevitably some students were quite defensive when questioned, an overwhelming 91 percent of students said they “weren’t bothered” by the stereotype, highlighting some of the benefits of a less strenuous academic workload.
Vice-Chancellor Chris Higgins claimed instead that we are in fact “consistently competing at the top of league tables with Oxford and Cambridge”.
“Durham University is an attractive proposition for students in its own right”, explains Higgins, with “90 per cent of entrants for the current academic year” making Durham their ‘firm’ choice.
Helen Jones, a Collingwood student who did not apply to Oxbridge, told Palatinate that she thinks “Durham is great in its own right. The courses offered here are much more flexible than those at Oxbridge”.
Not everyone was quite so unequivocal. Some students did express genuine concerns that Durham is simply “second best” to Oxbridge.
“Whilst I have enjoyed almost everything about Durham since coming here, and now there’s nowhere else I would rather be, initially I did feel as if I was heading for the next best thing after Oxbridge” explains an anonymous Castle student.
“Not just in terms of league tables, but in terms of history, tradition and prestige, I had the distinct impression that Durham was somewhat wanting compared to its older rivals”.
Jack Higson, a third year physicist, explained, “I applied to Cambridge due to the reputation it has compared to other universities. Cambridge is also renowned for the top-class science facilities”.
One student went much further, “I’m not sure we’re even close to being second best”.
However, the Vice-Chancellor is eager to rubbish the view that Durham is in the shadow of Oxbridge. Speaking to The Sunday Times for their annual University Guide, he indicated that “Durham demonstrated particularly outstanding performance in individual subject league tables securing first-place rankings”.
Unfortunately no-one from the University was available for an interview with Palatinate regarding the subject.
Encouragingly however for the university, 79% of students questioned think that Durham is unique and possesses its own distinctive and attractive identity.
While in the small minority, some students questioned turned down their offers from Oxbridge to come to Durham because they felt the smaller workload enabled them to pursue extra-curricular activities.
Palatinate discussed the decision with an anonymous Physicist, “There were a number of reasons I decided not to go to Cambridge. A few friends who had gone hadn’t given very positive feedback.
“I don’t mind working, but I didn’t want to feel obliged to work myself under and not have time for anything else. Some even said they wished they had gone somewhere else instead. Of course, that probably isn’t the majority view, but I still thought it was something worth thinking about.
“A lot of people at Durham do seem to have been unsuccessful in applying to Oxford and Cambridge, but certainly not all, and even if they were rejected, that isn’t necessarily a bad reflection on them.
“Some people at Oxbridge probably shouldn’t be there, in the same way that some people who were rejected were really good enough to get in – I would say that there is definitely a lot of luck involved”.
Many more than the stereotype suggests simply did not see the appeal of Oxbridge.
A significant number of those questioned (45 out of 103) chose not to apply, citing a variety of reasons.
An anonymous Hatfield finalist told Palatinate that “I liked Durham because it is respected but not as intimidating as Oxbridge”.
The University’s official rhetoric is quick to try and reinforce this distinction. In February, Chris Higgins claimed that although “people might see Durham as elitist… Durham is elite, but not elitist, there is a difference. We look for elite students, but it doesn’t matter what background they come from”.
Regardless of whether the stereotype is fully supported by the evidence or not, Durham is unquestionably an institution with a very strong academic reputation. The message of the vast majority of those questioned was that we should not be bitter if some of us are ‘Oxbridge rejects’, and we should instead focus on what Durham has to offer.
Even if the majority of Durham students are ‘Oxbridge rejects’, those questioned seemed adamant that what they do with their time at university is far more likely to define and shape their lives than simply the choices made on a UCAS application.