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October 05, 2013


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I too never encountered the Austrians during my undergraduate studies (pursued at a far less prestigious institution than Oxford) - the economics taught was mainly Keynesian.

I don't feel short-changed, however, as I doubt the Austrians compare favourably against Keynes (the master). I recommend the Austrians stick to what they are good at - music (Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Mahler, et al) and leave economics alone.


I did, as it happens, arrive thirty years ago today. (Lincoln College. Modern History, a Desmond.)

Here's what I learned.

(a) That many of the people at Oxford do not have a clue about how people from poorer backgrounds live, what their schools are like, what their jobs are like or what their expectations are. (This is a cliché for which I apologise, but it is one that is too often true. I'd also observe that I was there during the miners' strike and the most noticeable thing was not which side people were on but that most of them seemed unaware it was taking place.)

(b) That however intelligent many Oxford people are - and some were frighteningly so, well out of my league - that very awareness of one's own intelligence is often a barrier to its application. Feeling that you know everything is not conducive to doubt, to listening, to awareness of how very much you do not know.

(c) That for these two reasons, very many highly intelligent people are functionally stupid in most situations outwith their own specialisms (and in some ways, within them too).

(d) That non-Oxbridge people are not in any meaningful sense less intelligent than Oxbridge people. They just think they are.

(e) That most of what Oxford provides is something - something which more impressive to other people than it actually merits - to put on your CV, and access to a networking system that enables you to make use of it.

(f) That you can get away with an almost entire absence of effort, academically, as your tutors are really only interested in a few high-flyers. (I can actually see their point, now, and I don't really mind.)

I could go on, but you get my point. I didn't and don't like the place, for reasons which right or wrong are at least well-informed, though I confess it does make Oxford a much more interesting place to live in (I stayed on in the city for thirteen years after finishing my studies) than it might be otherwise.

What did it give me? A loathing of smugness and a love of Oxford United. Come on you Yellows.


@ ejh - oddly (though we're contemporaries) I didn't take any of these lessons away, apart from (e). Mind you, (b) and (c) are true - though I learnt these from working in finance, not at Oxford.


Hmm, thinking back I don't think I had nearly as many insights from college, nice to see you had a lot of lessons. @ejh funny!


Did a brief post-grad stint at Cambridge. The place, of course, is absolutely gorgeous. The facilities are superb. I felt ten feet tall showing friends and family about the place. But I found some of the people a little smug, and I got a greater intellectual buzz (at least in social science subjects) at Essex Uni. I think it may be to do with the compact nature of the campus and the sheer number of leading academics, in similar or related fields, working visibly very hard, and in close proximity to each other; very often with their office doors opened wide, bouncing ideas around.
I think the most important lesson learning should give you is to make you aware of our boundless ignorance; both individually and collectively. Not to be disheartened by it, but seek to push the boundary out, even a little further. Even if we are just splashing on the beach of the ocean, in terms of knowledge, what we think we do know is, I think, still amazing.


PPE, almost 50 years since I started. Learned to skim read lots of things, and not to rely on textbooks. And how to write an essay on almost anything in two or three days. But the culture of being clever and "original," rather than getting a thorough grounding in anything was a handicap. I later discovered that the despised Americans often, if they had done graduate degrees (which I also did), had a much more rounded education than I had. But I suppose through it all I did learn some scepticism, and that there was rarely a prepackaged right answer.

Bloody Rotter

Current PPEist here. 'Quantitative Economics' (introductory stats) is now a core economics module that must be taken if any other advanced econ options are. Further, full Econometrics and Math Methods papers are possible. From what I've heard, economics is far more technical than it used to be.

My modern perspective: the university is still packed with brats,though many must be relatively less privileged than in previous decades. Organization, discipline, money and an excellent education BEFORE Oxford seem crucial to getting firsts. Personality and connections are still crucial to landing the seemingly most prestigious and selective jobs.

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