I’ve finally got some discipline in my life. The trigger for it was going to Oxford University for the National Centre for Research Methods, Research Methods Festival. I have been to Oxford University for a conference before so was slightly aware of their dining room and communal eating but I thought that this excellent service was for delegates only, you know, people serving you swiftly and efficiently, promptly at the allocated meal times – I thought the students would have some sort of regular canteen type situation with a dinner lady and stodgy food. But I found out that actually, Oxford (and Cambridge) students get fed and served like this everyday – by staff in bow-ties!
I was very shocked. ‘Normal’ students have to plan their food, budget, think about what to cook, use crappy saucepans and fight with their room mates who never do their share of the cleaning. All this eats up time and causes stress.
I lived at home during my BA and MA so did not have to suffer this stress with strangers, but I did not get served by my parents. We always lived communally where we all contributed and my dad never wore a bow-tie. Anyway, my point is that although at first I was shocked that this is normal and every day (oh how the other half live), I came from the conference refreshed, feeling healthy (the fruit was delicious!) and suddenly had become a early to bed early to rise person. It helped me get into a healthy routine.
My thesis is broadly speaking about widening participation, these elite universities for me were something to be hated and despised. But having now experienced this ‘boarding school for adults’, I think that all students, especially those who have to work, have children, live in crowded housing or noisy neighbourhoods, whilst trying to study, should be sponsored to spend six weeks (or months) in Oxford University as a respite and to have the opportunity to spend uninterrupted time on intellectual thoughts rather than chore thoughts or have no thoughts due to dragging through the day after sleepless nights spent in a noisy neighbourhood.
Oxbridge students could also have an exchange and live life in a ‘normal’ university for a bit too. I do understand that there are Oxbridge students who have lived in ‘the real world’, and realise I often exhibit probably unfair prejudice towards people educated in elite institutions, but for those privately educated young people who need this safe, protective environment as they have lived like this since aged 5 and Oxbridge for them therefore is a continuation of this boarding school environment, a university cultural exchange may be beneficial. Especially if Oxford graduates are our leaders and education ministers of the future.
I know of someone (@KathrynDodd) who once suggested to me that Oxford and Cambridge should become a university for postgraduates only. After experiencing this environment, I think it is a marvelous idea. I don’t see anything wrong with having this boarding school type of university like Oxford and Cambridge per se (so long as all the staff have good pay and benefits), but it should be available to a wider group of people, and perhaps making it a postgraduate initiative is the answer.
Just so you can get a feel for the atmosphere there, here is the view from my bedroom window.
Until I moved out and now have the luxury of my own study, I did my degree and MA in an overcrowded flat, sharing a bedroom with my sisters and studying in the hallway, where I would get visits from my family as they used the toilet (as well as previously studying for my GCSEs and A levels in the watertank cupboard). I do work best now if I hear toilets flushing, farting, water running and the neighbours stabbing each other, and I would not change the experience I had as it’s made me as hard as nails and no sociologist should live in an ivory tower, but I reckon looking at ducks whilst thinking philosophical thoughts would have been pretty good too. Just as a respite.