‘We Must End Oxbridge’s Stranglehold On The Bar And Look Instead To The Russell Group’

Avatar photo

By OccupyTheInns on

OccupyTheInns argues that the recent increase of Oxbridge representation among pupil barristers is bad news for the Bar

I found it awfully sad to read in the latest Bar Barometer that pupillage numbers have fallen again, but I believe I was even more saddened by another finding: the increase in the percentage of pupils who had studied at Oxford and Cambridge. The figure has risen from 23.7% in 2010 to 34.5% in the most recent tally-up.

For the life of me I have never understood this obsession with what is popularly known as ‘Oxbridge’. Perhaps this national fixation would make sense if no other universities existed in this country other than polytechnics, but that is patently not the case. Britain has a plethora of centres of excellence for undergraduate learning, at the head of which lies the Russell Group…

I was fortunate enough to study at a leading Russell Group University – an active choice I made after deliberately not applying to Oxford or Cambridge because I believed their version of my course to be inferior. I stand by that choice. Moreover, I am convinced that the experience I enjoyed was far richer than that of a student who attends Oxford or Cambridge. I have three key reasons to support this proposition.

The first is that, as I correctly judged when applying, the teaching on my (non-law) course was absolutely first-class, delivered by some of the best academics in their field globally. I know for a fact that the equivalent courses at both Oxford and Cambridge do not have the same calibre of academics teaching on them.

Secondly, the course I studied had a far more innovative curriculum, and was far more daring generally, than the sort of course delivered in an Oxbridge college rooted permanently in the mists of time.

Finally, and most importantly in my submission, is the fantastically broad life experience I gained during my undergraduate years. Mixing with people from all corners of the globe and society, I am often reminded of a line in Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’ when I think back to those days.

“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch”

It is thanks to my university, where the diversity was far greater than Oxbridge and the culture far more conducive to socialising, that I learnt to do this.

Sitting now as I do at my writing table after another day assisting on an international sustainability project, the tropical sun setting on the verdant green hills through the window in front of me, London seems far, far away, as if it were another time, another world.

It is hard to believe that less than three months ago I was receiving the good news that I had obtained pupillage. Without the skills that I learnt at university – I am referring to life skills as much as educational skills – I am certain that this would not have happened.

Yet the Bar Barometer shows that there are fewer of my kind making it to the Bar. A closed-shop old boys’ Oxbridge club is no good for anyone, other than the old boys themselves, threatening precious talent that could have a very positive impact on the Bar going forward. It is for this reason that I urge policy-makers to move swiftly to end this Oxbridge stranglehold on the Bar and look instead to the Russell Group.

OccupyTheInns graduated from the BPTC last summer, and was called to the Bar in July 2011. He will commence pupillage next autumn. There’s more from OccupyTheInns here.