Students at Oriel College are currently voting on a motion to abolish Scholars’ Privilege in the undergraduate room ballot. If the motion passes, JCR Committee Members will make representations to the College and attempt to bring the desired changes into effect.
Scholars’ Privilege is a system where Scholars and Exhibitioners (those who achieve highly in Mods and Prelims) are given first choice of accommodation in the annual room ballot. Other than Christ Church, which is due to abolish Scholars’ Privilege from 2022/23, Oriel is the only Oxford college known to retain this process.
Many students view Scholars’ Privilege as unjust and archaic, believing that academic achievement shouldn’t determine who gets to access the best accommodation.
At an Oriel JCR meeting on Sunday 31st October, attendees were unanimous in finding Scholars’ Privilege unfair, with 39 agreeing, 0 disagreeing and 0 abstaining to comment on the statement. The JCR Committee also moved to call a confirmatory referendum on Tuesday 2nd – Wednesday 3rd November, so that all College members have a chance to express their opinion on this important matter.
Those in favour of abolishing Scholars’ Privilege argue that Mods / Prelims are an inaccurate reflection of students’ capabilities. Statistics from 2020 show that those who went to an independent school are more likely to achieve a distinction at the end of first year than those who went to a state school. This inequality doesn’t balance out until later in degree courses, so using Prelims to determine standards of accommodation for the entirety of someone’s time in college could be seen as perpetuating elitist class divisions. Many believe that this fails to support Oriel’s increasing intake of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and is at odds with the college spirit of equality.
In the past, motions to abolish Scholars’ Privilege at Oriel have been rejected, with the opposition arguing that it helps to maintain a scholarly mood around college. However, the general consensus is that academic encouragement should come from tutors, not domestic incentives, and Oriel already has a range of generous financial prizes to reward high achievers. Many students therefore find it unpalatable that Scholars’ continue to receive balloting privilege at the expense of their peers.
The referendum will close at 5pm on Wednesday 3rd November and the motion is expected to pass among Oriel’s JCR. Students will then look to the heads of College for the abolition of this divisive system.