The Oxbridge of Tennis and the Wimbledon of Education… What makes the UK’s most prestigious universities and tennis tournament alike?
Some of the most famous lawns in the world are again on display for spectators around the world to enjoy the iconic sport event originating in England – Wimbledon. Although this year’s 126th edition of Wimbledon may be in the shadow of two bigger sports events – EURO 2012 and the London 2012 Olympic Games.
However this oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world never fails to attract the attention of thousands of tennis fans or other enthusiasts who see it as a cultural symbol.
If you are a postgraduate student who has just finished studying in the UK, watching Wimbledon may be one of the things to do before you leave. If you have just arrived in the UK to start your postgraduate course this autumn, Wimbledon may well be your introductory lecture to certain aspects of the British culture. Regardless of your inclinations towards tennis or sport in general, the sounds of tennis balls at this year’s Wimbledon will compose a perfect overture to the Olympic Games.
The UK prides itself on hosting the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament that forms a part of its cultural heritage, but it also prides itself on establishing some of the most prestigious universities in the world, namely Oxford and Cambridge and the 20 universities that make up the Russell Group.
If we try to think about which British universities have a similar reputation in the world of higher education as Wimbledon has in the world of tennis, the two universities commonly known as Oxbridge spring in our minds – the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. If winning the title at Wimbledon is a dream of many tennis players around the world, then earning a postgraduate degree at Oxbridge, as the Wimbledon of education, can be seen as similarly appealing to students around the world.
This claim sounds yet more plausible if we consider that between 70% and 80% applications for a postgraduate course at Oxbridge come from outside the UK. Such a high reputation of the two of the UK’s ancient universities stems partially from their excellence in research, and partially from their fame as some of the top university brands in the world, along with the big prestigious institutions from the US, namely Harvard, Stanford, MIT, etc.
Beside their international reputation, Wimbledon and Oxbridge as the UK’s historical “institutions” share many similar characteristics. Wimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world, being first held in 1877, and the universities of Oxford and Cambridge are the oldest universities in the English speaking world, being founded in 1167 and 1209 respectively. Furthermore, both Wimbledon and Oxbridge are sometimes seen as elitist – the term Oxbridge itself has connotations of the social elite that were traditionally educated at Oxford and Cambridge. This point of view is also stimulated by some of the old traditions that both Wimbledon and Oxbridge cherish. For example, the players fighting for the Wimbledon title and the students studying at Oxbridge have to follow a specific dress code – the former have to wear white while playing their matches, and the latter have to wear special academic dress while attending formal dinners or other formal events.
Wimbledon is the only grand slam tournament still played on English style lawns consisting of perennial ryegrass, and the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge are as well crowded by English-style lawns. It is a less known fact that English-style lawns are an old English symbol of the aristocratic status, because one purpose of owning a lawn was to show that the owner can afford to keep the land not used for building or food planting. Beside these traditions, another similarity between Wimbledon and Oxbridge is that they both contain some famous venues and buildings. For example, “Centre Court” on which the Wimbledon final is played is one of the most famous tennis venues in the world, and King’s College Chapel at the University of Cambridge or the Sheldonian Theatre at the University of Oxford are amongst the most famous university buildings in the world.
Even if many students around the world who want to apply for a postgraduate degree in the UK have a very high opinion of Oxford and Cambridge, the question remains: Are all students who study at Oxbridge academic Roger Federers, and will studying at Oxbridge boost your future career in line with your expectations?
First of all, it is a misconception that most of the students studying at Oxford and Cambridge are geniuses. Only some of them become Isaac Newtons or Charles Darwins, and the rest are just hard workers who are gifted but are not prodigies. Secondly, applying for a postgraduate study at Oxford or Cambridge based solely on their worldwide reputation may be a wrong step because just studying at one of these universities is not a guarantee for a successful career. If you want to accomplish your future career plans, it is more advisable to first determine your field of interest and then to check which universities have the departments that are the strongest in these fields and satisfy your personal objectives.
Oxford and Cambridge are excellent in various fields of research and do have strong ties with the industry, but every subject is not on an equal level and there are other universities who have equally strong ties with the industry and are equally strong or even stronger in some subjects. So it is very important to look beyond the prestige and work out what institution n is the best choice for you. Only if you follow your own objectives and thoroughly investigate which educational pathway may be the best for you, you can find the university that is your Wimbledon of education and become Roger Federer of your field. Until then, enjoy the game and do not pay attention to whether it is played at Wimbledon, Oxford, Cambridge, or at any other of the great UK universities.