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Oriel College the last in Oxford to end Scholars’ Privilege in room ballot

After years of discussion, Oriel College’s Governing Body has agreed with the JCR to abolish Scholars’ Privilege in the room ballot. It is the last Oxford college to do so. 

At the end of Hilary, the Governing Body (GB) adopted the JCR’s proposal to remove the room-allocation advantage given to those who perform exceptionally well in Prelims or Mods. This comes a year after the Oriel JCR’s motion to remove Scholars’ Privilege was vetoed by the GB. Oriel JCR hopes that the current balloting process for next academic year, which has already begun, will be unaffected by the changes to Scholars’ Privilege.

Oriel JCR president, Phoebe Winter told Cherwell that “we are so delighted College has agreed to abolish Scholars’ Privilege in the room ballot. It’s been something that JCR Committees have been hoping to achieve for many years now and it has taken a lot of time and effort to put together proposals and argue for them in meetings, so it’s hugely exciting that we have finally managed to push this change through.” In Michaelmas, Oriel JCR voted in favour of abolition by 74 votes to 5.

In its proposal to the GB, the JCR cited the divide between state and independently educated students’ attainment in Prelims. It argued that discrepancies in educational experience can contribute to the attainment gap, so Scholars’ Privilege simply deepens private-education advantage. Oriel JCR told Cherwell that “this system reinforced discrepancies in state vs private school achievement in first year.” Similarly, the JCR spoke of unnecessary academic pressure placed on students, many of whom already grapple with imposter syndrome especially when joining Oxford with a state-education background. Oriel JCR believes Oxford education should not be framed by competition for the best rooms. The end of the Privilege comes with great relief as Phoebe Winter hopes that “the majority can celebrate this as a pretty monumental moment in JCR politics”. 

Outside of Oriel JCR, students are torn by the practice of Scholars’ Privilege. A poll of over 300 students carried out by Cherwell found that 39% of respondents view Scholars’ Privilege as a helpful academic motivator against the 38% that don’t. Whilst a narrower 34% see the Privilege as unfair, the general consensus is that Scholars are deserving of reward in some form. After all, Exhibition holders – second-in-rank to Scholars – will similarly don the puffed sleeves of a Scholars gown so hard work is mostly rewarded across the board. Oriel College references this supposed flexibility in its Handbook where “awards are made to students in order to mark the attainment of a specific goal or progress towards a specific goal”.  

Scholars’ Privilege still exists in other forms. Most colleges offer financial rewards, Scholars gowns, and Scholars’ formals. St Hugh’s College even offers several free days of vacation residence to recognise the “significant honour” of Scholarship, as is stated in the Student Handbook.

In the name of the egalitarian university experience, the Oriel JCR asserted that they “are really looking forward to seeing this change come into practice, and are extremely grateful to Oriel’s Governing Body for voting to abolish this system”.

Image Credit: Steve Daniels/CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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