Wales' big fat Oxbridge insecurity

At a dinner in Westminster this week I met a Welsh language journalist whose academic career was almost the exact mirror of mine: same high school, same Cambridge college, same Japanese university, then returning to take the same course in Cardiff. Truly bizarre.

It was all the more odd, we noted, given that our school gave us no help whatsoever in getting a place at Oxbridge, the factor which kickstarted those other opportunities. In fact, the culture in our Welsh language school towards Oxbridge was positively negative.

I'd even say that, within the Welsh language community, there's a degree of antipathy towards English universities in general.

Look no further than Plaid Cymru's election pledge to help students pay off their graduate debt if they work in Wales. The catch is they must attend university in Wales first - effectively devaluing the contribution of those educated in England and treating them as second-class citizens.

Britain is blessed with two of the best universities in the world (2nd and 8th, I believe, at the last count), and many other great institutions too. Wales can only benefit from students of those universities coming to work in Wales, and should encourage more to do so. But the Welsh language community would much rather young people stayed in Wales for more of the same.

At the root of many Welsh sentiments about Oxbridge is an irrational fear of its 'Englishness' - academic excellence is ignored.

Plaid are a nationalist party and it's inevitable their policies will have a nationalist spin. In the coming months, they'll have to convince the electorate that such policies are for the benefit of Wales and not for the sake of a parochial ideology which should have no place in education.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 1:17 pm,

13 Comments:

At 4:28 pm, Blogger Tom Williams said...

I didn't know you went to King's...

 
At 5:00 pm, Blogger Mr Gasyth said...

Glad you came back, assuming you are back that is, because the problem is that a huge number of those who go to Uni in England stay there. Plaid's aim is clearly to keep Wales' best and brightest in Wales. This would not only raise the standards of our Univiersities, but more importantly contribute to our economic prosperity and civic society. The brain drain to England and beyond is both a symptom and a cause of our relative economic backwardness. Thank God someone is taking the task of reversing it seriously.

 
At 5:42 pm, Blogger Blamerbell said...

"Glad you came back, assuming you are back that is, because the problem is that a huge number of those who go to Uni in England stay there."

So entice them back by offering them the same incentives as those who study in Wales. Otherwise, why bother returning as a second-class citizen just because of a personal academic decision?aerdydd1927

 
At 8:49 pm, Anonymous Bryn said...

Interesting post blamerbell. I went to Cambridge myself. Though I was encouraged to apply by my school, they didn’t give me much assistance. I suspect that this was because of the great uncertainty over 'what Oxbridge want' which exists among state schools in general, rather than particular animosity towards English Universities however. Indeed, I think I got more abuse from peers who didn't understand why I wanted my A-Levels taught through Welsh, and yet wanted to go 'abroad'(!) to University.

I half disagree with you about attitudes towards English Universities. Though this is undoubtedly true when applied to less illustrious institutions, I think that there is a tendency to make allowances for Oxbridge. Two main reasons for this. Firstly by virtue of the fact that they are amongst the world’s top academic institutions. Secondly, because of the centuries of tradition involved, especially the Welsh connections of Jesus, Oxford (beneficaries of this link including Rhodri Morgan and Gwynfor Evans of course).

Excellent blog- hope your labour on it comes to fruition in the near future.

 
At 8:59 pm, Blogger Blamerbell said...

"I half disagree with you about attitudes towards English Universities. Though this is undoubtedly true when applied to less illustrious institutions, I think that there is a tendency to make allowances for Oxbridge."

Perhaps, but not in my direct experience.

The case remains, though, that Plaid's policy would discriminate against Welsh students educated in England, whichever university they choose.

"Excellent blog- hope your labour on it comes to fruition in the near future."

Cheers. Do come again:)

 
At 9:34 pm, Blogger PaulMartin said...

Good post Blamerbell.

The current state of play (whereby Welsh students can avoid top-up fees if they choose a Welsh university rather than an English one) is already leading many to discount the possibility of going to an English university and Plaid's policy would obviously exacerbate the situation.

I think it is a cause for concern and personally believe that Welsh pupils should be encouraged to spread their wings.

Perhaps even more importantly though, Plaid's policy would result in fewer places being available at Welsh universities for English students.

Surely a) Welsh pupils furthering their education in England (especially Oxbridge) and more often than not returning to Wales and b) English students coming to study in Wales is of more benefit to the country than trying to close ranks amid the (irrational?) fear of a brain drain.

 
At 10:06 pm, Blogger Blamerbell said...

"The current state of play (whereby Welsh students can avoid top-up fees if they choose a Welsh university rather than an English one) is already leading many to discount the possibility of going to an English university and Plaid's policy would obviously exacerbate the situation."

Indeed, but you could say that's a result of financially punitive English legislation on top-up fees, rather than Welsh policies per se.

The difference with Plaid's proposal is that they are making a distinction between two classes of Welsh worker - with preferential treatment for those educated in Wales.

There's a danger that people will perceive that as blatant discrimination.

 
At 12:19 pm, Blogger David Thomas said...

I went to Oxford from an English-medium school in Wales and am grateful for the experience. However it would be wrong to assume that Oxbridge is superior in every respect to other universities in general and Welsh universities in particular. Oxbridge is basically distinguished by 3 things - the tutorial method, the collegiate system (which avoids subject-based ghettos) and the high percentage of post-graduate students. You can call them the best and second-best universities in Britain if you like but once you look at individual faculties and the standards of teaching and of student support a different picture sometimes emerges. There are world-class faculties in Welsh universities and if Plaid's policies encourages our best pupils to consider these instead of automatically the "Oxbridge option" then it has merit. After graduation there is no compulsion to stay in Wales but a financial incentive would not go amiss.

 
At 12:21 pm, Blogger David Thomas said...

I went to Oxford from an English-medium school in Wales and am grateful for the experience. However it would be wrong to assume that Oxbridge is superior in every respect to other universities in general and Welsh universities in particular.

Oxbridge is basically distinguished by 3 things - the tutorial method, the collegiate system (which avoids subject-based ghettos) and the high percentage of post-graduate students. You can call them the best and second-best universities in Britain if you like but once you look at individual faculties and the standards of teaching and of student support a different picture sometimes emerges.

There are world-class faculties in Welsh universities and if Plaid's policies encourages our best pupils to consider these instead of automatically the "Oxbridge option" then it has merit. After graduation there is no compulsion to stay in Wales but a financial incentive would not go amiss.

 
At 10:33 pm, Blogger Martin said...

It took me a long time to realise that what Oxbridge is really looking for is people who are basically mental. Or, to put it another way, people whose thought patterns are so far off the norm as to be fundamentally original. I'm convinced the Welsh side of my family gave me this relentless individualism and a refusal to toe anyone else's line.

But off the back of that, as a 50% English, 50% Welsh cross, I'd say that it shows our collective Britishness makes us stronger. The English money helps the Welsh and the Welsh individuality helps the English. England would be a horrific, Tory place without the Welsh, Scots and Irish.

 
At 12:42 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The whole point of Plaid's policy is to try and stem the historical brain-drain from Wales.

Labour in the first Assembly refused Cynog Dafis's suggestion of conducting research to see what percentage of Welsh students returned to Wales, so we don't know the size of the challenge.

Other countries aren't as careless of their young people and this kind of debate is happening across Europe. After all, Welsh tax-payers pay for the nursery, juniour and high school education of our young people and there's also a cultural (and in Welsh) a linguistic investment in the people it's more than just a great economic and cultural pity if all this is lost because people go to a univsersity in England and do not return. Of course, if one think's there isn't anything intrinsically interesting or important in Welsh culture, then you can take the laizzer-fair/free-market few or identity and people.

This is just part of the strategy - good jobs, standarnd of living, quality of life etc ar all part of the package if we want to retain our young people and also attract good workers from outside Wales.

I attended a Welsh-medium school in the South East and there was definately an idea that Oxbridge was the highest standard a pupil could attain. But there was also a positive attitude to Welsh colleges which didn't push this 'spreading your wings' (i.e. Wales is crap idea - the idea my aunty in Swansea had). I mean, going to a university which in all probability is not much diffef=rent to Cardiff in size and drinking culture wouldn't have been 'spreading my wings' in my case. In many respecte, and from my experience, going to university in Aberystwyth was a bigger difference - culturally and in terms of life-style - than going to Bristol/Exeter/Reading would have been from leaving Cardiff.

To add to Martin's slightly racist comments. I think England would be a perfectly decent and interesting place with or without the Celts. It doesn't need the Irish, Scots and Welsh to make it more civilized. And in any case, nobody's saying Celts shouldn't live in England nor that they wouldn't be welcome. It's not the job of the Welsh to save the English from themselves. I find this attide rooted in a 19C Welsh cringe and is insulting to English nationality.


Huw

 
At 7:17 pm, Blogger Blamerbell said...

"The whole point of Plaid's policy is to try and stem the historical brain-drain from Wales."

All the more unfortunate then that it may exacerbate it.

Why would people who have studied in England return to work in Wales but with second-class status?

 
At 10:07 am, Blogger sanddef said...

Mr Gasyth is right. I'm afraid you're quite deliberately missing the whole point of Plaid's policy, and insodoing revealing a preference for Wales to remain the provincial playground of others.

 

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