By Waseem Mohamed
‘Oxbridge reject’ is one of Durham’s most recurrent stereotypes. Due to Durham’s relatively high rankings in the UK university league tables, coupled with its college system and traditional quirks that replicate that of Oxford and Cambridge, for those not quite lucky enough to get an offer at either of the more famous universities, Durham is seen by many as the natural second-best alternative.
However, the perception that Durham is overrun with ‘Oxbridge rejects’ appears somewhat unwarranted.
Data obtained by Palatinate revealed that over the past 5 years on average, only 43.27% of students who are accepted into Durham each year had ever been rejected from Oxbridge, the equivalent of 2075 rejects per average cohort.
These figures were calculated by taking the number of students who firmed their offer to study at Durham following an Oxbridge rejection, and dividing this by the total number of undergraduates accepted by Durham each year.
The figures show that the proportion of students admitted who had previously been rejected by Oxbridge admitted has been increasing almost annually.
In 2016/17, only 39.84% of those accepted into Durham were Oxbridge rejects, but by 2020/21 this figure had risen to 46.40%, despite the number of students being accepted that year being higher than normal due to grade inflation.
Palatinate spoke to several students, both Oxbridge rejects and non-rejects, about what they made of these statistics.
Emerson Shams, who did not apply to Oxbridge, said that “I find it surprising that most students also didn’t [apply to Oxbridge], as the majority of people I encountered in first year […] had. People would ask ‘Are you an Oxbridge reject?’, and it was really weird that I wasn’t”.
Georgie Brooks-Ward, a student at John Snow College similarly who did not apply, said that “I just thought it was a given that everyone who comes to Durham applied to Oxbridge. But, I quite like the fact that a lot of people do apply to Oxbridge because it makes me feel like I’m at a better university”.
Neha Nambiar, a law student at Van Mildert College who was rejected from Oxbridge admitted that her experience was “not really a big deal to me, because law is really competitive”. She did note however that in her native Singapore, some people do pay attention to the stereotype: “Even back home […] my dad would say that Durham is an Oxbridge reject university”.
Pavat Pichetsin, who was also a reject from Oxbridge, believes that these statistics “represents how the Durham demographic is changing based on what my friends are saying. Some did not apply outright to Oxbridge because they self-evaluated themselves and didn’t believe they would get in. Others from more competitive course would apply to Oxbridge”.
The figures will likely be a surprise to many students, especially given the sometimes-used term “Doxbridge”. Durham shares many similarities with Oxbridge universities such as a college system and gowned formals, however in reality most students at Durham were accepted having not even applied to Oxbridge.
Palatinate are currently working with UCAS to compare Durham’s Oxbridge reject rates to other Russell Group universities for a follow-up article.
Image Credit – Waseem Mohamed