In defence of Elly Nowell, the girl who rejected Oxford
When the news appeared earlier this week that 19-year-old Elly Nowell from Winchester sent a rejection letter to Oxford University parodying the style of the thousands pedaled out by such institutions each year, it wasn’t long before the cries of “obnoxious!”, “arrogant!” and “ungrateful!” came screaming out from all corners of the internet.
How dare she insult such a precious British institution, with its almost 1000-year strong reputation for academic excellence and producing great minds of the Western world? Her criticisms – notably that the university takes itself too seriously and that its grand setting allows private school pupils to flourish over their state school counterparts – were quickly dismissed as childish and Ms Nowell was labelled as a ‘silly little girl’ by those defending Oxford.
But why should she accept the status-quo and choose Oxford simply because she can? What should be applauded is that this woman has had the guts to speak out against a system that has been lauded as ‘the best’ without question for too long. Sure, her tone may have come across as obnoxious and arrogant, but this is surely just a sign of the same sharp-elbowed initiative and self-confidence that Oxbridge graduates themselves are so often praised for.
I’m not denying that academic results speak for themselves, and for anyone who enters university purely for the enrichment of personal knowledge or who intends on continuing into research, they could do a whole lot worse than Oxford and Cambridge.
But how well do they actually prepare you for life in the real world?
Tutorials inside seeming castles, supper in the great hall, a suit for every occasion, and ancient college regulations allowing you to order a pint of bitter in the middle of an exam (once you’ve left your sword at the door, of course) – the only place this kind of pomp and pretention is rivalled today is in the House of Lords. It is no surprise then, that so many of today’s top politicians studied at these universities, when they seem to have as tight a grasp of modern Britain’s reality as the institutions they trained in.
I admit my first-hand experience of Oxford is limited to a taster day for prospective students at 16 and a couple of visits to my older sister while she studied at the dwarfed Oxford Brookes (her partner was an Oxford student when she met him – ‘half-breeding?!’ some may gasp), and although beautiful, the place seemed a world away from anything I had experienced before, or have since. It’s no coincidence that Oxford was used as a filming location in the Harry Potter films – both Christ Church college and the Bodleian Library doubled as parts of Hogwarts – due to their otherworldliness; their magical air of a place greatly distanced from the modern world.
I decided not to pursue Oxford as a university of choice when completing A-levels, and my final years at college were far more stress-free than contemporaries who did, busting a gut to attain only the best grades and completing gruelling separate applications to those of us who went through UCAS.
While Oxbridge graduates walk into high-powered, highly-paid jobs because of the name of the university on their CV, shouldn’t employers be questioning what, in practice, these students have over their competitors? They work harder, sure, having had to work to far more deadlines than students at most other universities, but in terms of practical knowledge and life experience what have they gained?
Many would say that university is not necessarily about learning hands-on, professional skills, and that it is what you learn outside of the classroom that sets you up for life in the ‘real world’. What can be said then of a university society based on antiquated practices and outdated traditions, when it comes to preparing students for life after graduation?
An Oxford-educated colleague of mine summed up the university as a ‘finishing school for the rich and powerful; rich and powerful students go there to ensure they continue to be rich and powerful in their working life.’
While one comment on Elly Nowell’s case came from someone saying they would never employ such a ‘spoilt brat’ after graduation, it is this sense of foresight and display of decision-making skills that should be attractive to employers, not the name of an old boys’ club on a piece of paper.
Picture credit: Getty ImagesTagged in: education, kelly nowell, Oxbridge, oxford university, university
Recent Posts on Notebook
- The Road to the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc - Majorca 70.3 Ironman
- The Retail Ready People project means the future of the high street is in your hands
- Don't get mad about Amazon and make the right ethical choice
- Chagos: Conservationists are swimming in murky waters
- Justin Webb on the medical advances in tackling heart disease
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter