In a talk given on Monday evening an Oxford University spin-off organisation called ‘80,000 Hours’ revealed their calculation that some Oxford students may have a 1 in 3 chance of becoming an MP with 1 out a few hundred students being in with a chance of becoming Prime Minister.
The group tracked the progress of OUSU and Oxford Union presidents between 1974 and 1985 and found that of those who attempted to pursue parliamentary politics, roughly one in the three were elected to parliament. More than one third of the 2010 incoming cohort of MPs studied at Oxford. The research mainly looked into students studying PPE and took into account involvement in societies and organisations like the Union.
They also took into consideration the fact that not all PPE students want to become MPs and instead go on to careers in everything from journalism to law. With this accounted for, a random PPE students’ chance of becoming an MP if they wanted to could still be as good as 1 in 12, according to the research.
“This research illustrates correlation between PPE students going on to become MPs, but not causality. We don’t know whether studying PPE over say law or even physics will necessarily give you an added advantage. All we know is that PPE students are more likely to go on to become MPs,” said Niel Bowerman of 80,000 Hours.
“We are interested in how we can make a big difference in the world with our careers. Our members want to pursue a wide range of careers, from academia, to tech start-ups, to the charity sector. Many of our members are also considering pursuing Parliamentary politics. We did this research to give them an idea of how likely they were to get elected. You are going to spend about 80,000 hours on your career, and so it’s worth spending at least 1% of that time thinking carefully about what you’re going to do and how you can make more impact in the world.”
Evan Lum, President of Oxford University PPE society, to whom the talk was given, was present on Monday for the presentation. He said, “I was at the 80,000 hours talk last night and as much as some people would love to believe that they have a 1 in 3 chance of becoming an MP, this is only if you are Union president. It is just a tiny bit higher for the average PPE-ist, being somewhere around 1/100, which isn’t too bad if you do intend of pursuing this course.”
“Although there a lot of people who come to Oxford to do PPE for academic interests, the course is famous for churning out successful politicians, and as such this would draw many politically minded, ambitious, smart 17 year olds to PPE; who with a good degree, networks and unrivalled ambition, have a good chance of becoming MPs should they so wish.”
Mairi Robertson of Oxford University Liberal Democrats said of the statistics that “it is a disappointing but unsurprising figure. The political class in this country have long since been drawn from stocks of Oxbridge graduates, and while we should not discriminate against a potential MP because they happened to go to a great university, neither should it occur to such an extent that other more-than-able candidates are excluded from the system. Oxford PPEists are not representative of the population as a whole by any stretch of the imagination, which is what one should want from their Parliament.”
“The very idea of a ‘career politician’ is itself problematic. The current culture, where an individual might graduate Oxbridge, work for a think-tank or party affiliate, and then be parachuted into a safe seat – which leaders in all parties are guilty of – is so far removed from the real world that it’s hardly surprising most politicians are stratospherically distant from the average punter.”
Jonathan Metzer, spokesperson for the Oxford University Labour Club, echoed a similar view: “Oxford has always had a reputation for training politicians – just look at the number of ex-Prime Ministers! I suppose this is selfperpetuating.”“The problem is, the social mix at Oxford is not representative of the general population. Students from just five institutions (Eton, Westminster, St Paul’s Boys and Girls, and Hills Road College) send more students to Oxbridge each year than nearly 2,000 comprehensive schools and colleges. Indeed, Oxford University takes the highest proportion of privately-educated students in the country.’
‘Oxford needs to do much, much more to encourage access for the many not the few. The best way to do this would be for every single Oxford college to take responsibility for the management of at least one of the nearly 650 failing comprehensives in the country and turn them into state schools to be proud of. At a stroke Oxford could go from being a bastion of privilege to a powerful driver of long-term social mobility.”
80,000 Hours is a careers evaluation organisation created by Ben Todd, a recent Oxford physics and philosophy graduate, and Will Crouch, a philosophy DPhil student. It provides free advice on how to make more of a difference in the world with one’s chosen career. 80,000 Hours is affiliated with the Oxford University Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, which is a part of the Philosophy Faculty.