Boat Race special: 6 things an Oxford education doesn’t teach you

by Simon Henry @simlington (oringially posted April 2014)

It’s that time again when the country is divided between dark blue and light blue. Isis v Goldie. Oxford v Cambridge.

Actually that’s not strictly true. The country is far more obsessed with the Grand National.

But horse racing has bored me senseless ever since grandma and granddad had it on the telly whenever we visited.

Most of my time at Oxford also bored me senseless – but at least I could turn the telly off in the MCR when I was there. The MCR in Oxford is the ‘middle common room’ for graduate students, to distinguish it from the JCR (for undergraduates) and SCR (for tutors). If you like three-letter acronyms, take a look at this

So the Boat Race it is for this blog. And don’t worry – it’s a pretty good blog. (This over-confidence emanates from an Oxford education. See title, he writes arrogantly.)

The problem stated

It’s not just ‘The Boat Race’ – it’s ‘The BNY Mellon Boat Race‘.

And BNY Mellon isn’t a greengrocer with an L of a problem, but an investment company.

And it’s not just any investment company, it’s an investment company that manages trillions of dollars. Not just billions.

And the boats aren’t just filled with fit young men who row in order to work off the drunken excesses of student life.


The Oxford boat has not just one, not two – but three Olympic rowers. FFS.

So Oxford does some things scarily well. Is there anything it fails to give its students?


1, An inferiority complex:

Once you get into Oxford, other people treat you as if you’re a genius. Note: you don’t actually have to be a genius to get into Oxford.

A family endowment to a college (bribe) can ease the admissions process no end. So can a double (or triple) barrelled name, or an Olympic gold medal.

Jeffrey Archer

Jeffrey Archer has never gone on the record to compare the food at Brasenose College, Oxford with the meals served in prison

But whether you’re bright or not, the superiority complex remains with you – forever. (See Jeffrey Archer who never even got a degree while he was at my old college, but went on to sell 250 million books – at least one of which he wrote in prison.)

2. A lack of confidence:

Tutors at Oxford are trained to weed out those showing any signs of self-doubt during the interview process.

This produces an unnaturally high Knob Count.

And the Arrogant Dick : General Population ratio is off the scale. It’s true – these are real scientific guides.

My politics tutor Vernon Bogdanor, who also taught David Cameron his politics, toughened me up by throwing my essays across the room at me if he didn’t like them. He once said his eight-year-old daughter knew more about the House of Commons’ Select Committee system than I did. He had such incredibly high standards, I imagine he was right.

But was he happy? I know I wasn’t.

3. An ability to look after yourself without hired help:

Oxford students have ‘Scouts’ (Slaves) to look after their rooms.

Students don’t cook – rather they eat their meals (wearing gowns like in Harry Potter) in beautiful oak-paneled halls.

And many of the colleges own their own vineyards, so alcohol is regularly supplied free of charge too.

At Brasenose College, every Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity term, we got a free nosh up that included a bottle of wine with each of the main courses and an unlimited supply of port afterwards.

An Oxford student has a quick tipple, wearing 'sub fusc'

An Oxford student has a quick tipple, wearing ‘sub fusc’

Oxford produces an unhealthy number of alcoholics. They only drink really good champagne and the best hard spirits though.

4. An ability to know what to do with any spare time:

Oxford teaches its inhabitants that a moment not doing something ‘constructive’ is a moment lost forever.

Days begin at 6am with rowing training on The Isis (no it’s not The Thames in Oxford).

And they end at 5:30am with a drunken half-hour of stupefied sleep after a riotous ball or dinner – before it all starts again.

This ability to survive without rest is useful in The City where sleep is a luxury its millionaires can ill afford.

5. An ability to slacken off and take things easy for a bit:

During a single eight-week term, Oxford students are expected to produce more work than most other students create in three years.

Slacking off means you get ‘rusticated’ (chucked out), never to take one’s exams in ‘sub fusc’ (dinner suit and white bow tie).

Oxford does have a Mindfulness Centre teaching gentle meditation exercises that encourage people to slow down.

But it’s one of the best centres of its kind in the world – and its tutors are best-selling international authors.

Even its meditation gurus are competitive.

6. An ability to see sport as a relaxing pastime:

Even the Varsity Darts match is ultra-competitive, and apparently innocuous games of any sort usually have a sting in the tail.

While I was at Brasenose College, the cricket team played a friendly game against a team of ‘old boys’.

The umpires turned out to be Colin Cowdrey (one of England’s best ever batsmen) and Robert Runcie (a former Archbishop of Canterbury)!

But does all this matter?

Yes. Look at the Cabinet.

Would you want to be stuck in a lift with David Cameron, George Osborne or Michael Gove – all Oxford products?

I’d prefer to be stuck in a lift with a fart.

And this blog has just been a non-stop name-dropping and showing off fest. I can’t believe you’re still reading it.

Oh Oxford won, didn’t they? Again. Brilliant.

Please don’t let any of this put you off reading my other blogs – I’m told some of them are quite funny, especially the A-Z of office jargon and my Excommunication from the Catholic Church.

And remember you can follow me @simlington on Twitter.

Here’s a bit more about me – I studied for an M.Phil degree in Politics between 1993 and 1995 at Brasenose College, so I know what I’m on about when I write about Oxford. Before that, I went to a far more normal university, UCL – University College London.

Copyright Simon Henry (@simlington) 2014


One thought on “Boat Race special: 6 things an Oxford education doesn’t teach you

  1. Richard Shaw

    Very amusing, but if Oxford is anything like Cambridge, a little exaggerated in my experience (St John’s, Cambridge 1972-5).



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