Xavier Greenwood, who is currently studying Classics at Balliol College, Oxford.

It emerged in 2014 that there was an Oxford college whose Estates Manager was the senior member of an all-male, predominantly public school, invite-only drinking society; this Estates Manager was also in charge of student hardship within the college. In many ways, this is endemic of Oxford as a whole: a place too steeped in privilege to champion social inclusivity in any meaningful way.

I have always counted myself very lucky. Despite being thoroughly working-class when it comes to my home life and income, my mum saw something in me and sent me to an ambitious and successful school, where 100% of my fees were paid for by its alumni, for which I will be eternally grateful. However, although the educational barriers had been removed for me, interpersonal barriers remained. Holidays, parties, and other aids to social cohesion, passed me by, simply because I couldn’t afford it.

For so many at university, this experience is replicated. The expectation that Oxford is a social leveller is quite frankly a myth. At the end of our first term there is an university ski trip, which 3000 Oxford and Cambridge members attend, with a great deal of these members Freshers. If you’ve skied before (most likely, if you have money), the trip is incredibly affordable (there is no need to hire equipment and buy lessons), and a great way to spend a week. If you haven’t skied before, the trip tends to cost upwards of £800 for a week, which, for the already debt-averse, is an inconceivable expense. This is not to start on commemoration balls, which have become an insidious rite of passage for those leaving the university, and which cost upwards of £200, excluding white tie hire. Worse than all this is the rehashed falsehood that “it doesn’t matter which Oxford college you go to”. This may be the case for the financially comfortable student, but when St John’s rent maxes out at £1056 a term, and Lady Margaret Hall’s is fixed at £1400 a term, it’s grossly irresponsible to claim that people’s experience will be broadly similar across colleges. Despite the generous hardship support which lots of colleges provide, it is undoubtedly true that, within an university community that prizes fairness, money talks.

On the academic side, the tutorial system hugely benefits, both at interview and in university, people from private school backgrounds. Small class sizes, debating societies, the time to embrace freedom of thought rather than to meet government targets, are all huge benefits which a private school education brings when it comes to dealing with the tutorial system. The tutorial system is a fantastic resource which Oxford has, don’t get me wrong, and we should be teaching people to think for themselves, but we can’t pretend that it doesn’t favour a particular student from a particular background.

Considering intersections hugely compounds this problem. If you study history at Oxford, you essentially consign yourself to studying white people for three years. So you’re studying colonialism? Well you’re studying it with white tutors, reading academic papers written by white people, probably in a class of white people; it’s not hard to see why the system of academia self-selects. Chris Patten, chancellor of the university, believes that those who support the decolonisation of the Oxford education must be prepared to embrace freedom of thought or “think about being educated elsewhere” (as an aside, I’d doubt that Patten’s own freedom of thought has ever been silenced). But who after all is embracing freedom of thought more? Those who seek to question the very values on which the university has been financially and academically propagated for centuries? Or those who say that anyone who believes in racism’s continuing prevalence should leave the university, or failing that, the country? It’s nice that the latter group are so wholeheartedly embracing “freedom of thought”.

Whilst, for many, these instances of socio-racial divide might look like micro-issues, when they proliferate they construct an uncomfortable truth that success and happiness at Oxford is massively geared towards the neuro-typical, well-financed, white, male, privately-educated student. Far more than sympathy, many of those who don’t fit into any, or all, of these categories are asking for change.

Educating All is a youth-led research project commissioned by RECLAIM, exploring the barriers faced by working class students at top universities. For more information please click here or email [email protected]