The Oxbridge weight in Parliament, a bias or a meritocratic outcome?

There is no lie that many MPs within Parliament are from Oxbridge universities. Often times disparaging comments are that the ‘elite’ run the United Kingdom. The error of this attitude is that it confuses two aspects; viewing Oxbridge as an institution of the wealthy, rather than a platform for the highest achieving. Perhaps the perspective should be changed, focussing on the educational system and why there aren’t a greater variety of individuals coming through these education institutions than the politicians we see today.

A report published in the Spring of 2015 showed that 32% of MPs were educated privately in contrast to 7% of the population, while of those who went to university, 26% went to Oxford or Cambridge. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the ‘elite’ that is often referred to is from an educational perspective, not the historical wealth perspective, though both can be somewhat correlated since a significant number had gone to fee paying schools beforehand. In 1995, 48.1% of offers from Oxford University were to state school pupils while it is now 59.2%, reflecting a progressive change due to government pressure.

While these statistics are illuminating of the current composition of Parliament we see today, it is truly a one-dimensional perspective. One must also look into the composition of what these MPs studied for their degrees and how these universities fared in respective league tables to see whether it is truly appropriate. A study conducted on the MPs in the 2010-2015 parliament found that of 374/650 MPs, there were 150 degrees in social studies, a little over 50 in Law, another 50 in History and Philosophical studies and finally sharply dropping off into the 10s and below of other degrees. Given that Social Studies is the dominant set of degrees within parliament, one wonders how both Oxford and Cambridge fare in the league tables for these degrees in the 1980s since the average age of an MP within parliament is 50 years old. But again, the data was unavailable. Therefore, to narrow the search, the university rankings of Politics (arguably one of the more prominent social studies and appropriate to Parliament) in the UK for 2017 forecast that the University of Oxford was 1st, St Andrews 2nd and Cambridge 3rd .

Considering that The Commission believes that ‘the best people need to be in the best jobs,’ the aforementioned universities demonstrate why so many MPs are from Oxbridge respectively, possessing degrees from the best universities in that field. As it stands, Oxford University is currently the strongest university in the country, while Cambridge follows at second overall in the country. Given the attitude of having a meritocratic parliament as The Commission demonstrates, it shows why Oxbridge students have such a presence within parliament.

The concept that Oxbridge unfairly represents parliament is a contradiction of the meritocratic ideal The Commission adopts. To point the finger of accusation at Oxbridge itself is to forget the greater issues of educational pathing and who actually comes through these educational institutions. One should focus on who is coming through these universities and whether independent schools offer more competitive students. Statistics from The Commission have shown that in A level, 32% of those who obtain AAA or higher grades are from independent schools; perhaps Oxbridge offers more places to independent schools as they are more reliable. Of the 200 pupils in my year, 26 went to Oxbridge. Given that those who went to independent schools represent 7% of the British population, and around 40% of Oxbridge students are from these backgrounds, the number of those from independent schools is 8% too high, in reference to statistic of those who obtain AAA and above. One wonders how much independent schools have a bias to Oxbridge, or Oxbridge elects these pupils due to the academic reliability of independent schools. However this is not to say that this is not occurring – since 2006, applications to Oxford University has increased by 42% ; applications that must have come from state schools rather than independent schools.

It is futile to blame the Government that parliament is so overrepresented by Oxbridge, being that Oxbridge produces some of the academic elites we see today. The meritocratic ideals one should adopt adheres to this. However, one should look further instead not at the university, but rather which people are going through the universities. While the politicians we see today affirm the correlation of independent schools and Oxbridge, the trend within Oxbridge is changing, and the politicians we see will in a decade or two will still show an Oxbridge bias; but because they will be the educationally elite of the country; not of independent schools alone.


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