Opinion: 'A community of global citizens? Boring.'

Universities like to present themselves as hubs of inclusive, varied culture but don’t include class diversity, Marit de Roij observes.

A while ago, I took part in a volunteer project somewhere abroad and far away. To get acquainted, we were asked to line up in alphabetical order of the names of our home countries. That was bad enough, but the situation did not improve when I realised which nationalities my colleagues alleged they were.

A number of people had formed separate groups at the letters g and w and were calling themselves global citizens or worldwide citizens. “I have two passports and have lived in six different countries in the last decade, so I just don’t identify with one single country. There’s no place where I can really call home.” It just breaks your heart.

It’s no different in Oxford. You can’t move for people with double or even triple nationalities and for students who, tragically, only have one nationality but if you talk to them for a while will tell you that of course they were raised bilingually or at least had a grandmother who spoke French to them. And even if they’ve spent their whole life in one country, there are always a few ancestors who originally came from somewhere else, so they are forced to call themselves bi-cultural.

This cultural boasting slows down things quite a bit. If you just want to have a quick chat, you have to listen to someone explain how he or she is “Slovakian-Italian in theory but grew up in Berlin and identifies more generally with the Anglo-Saxon world”. Of course, this international lifestyle includes holidays all over the world, because faraway cultures are so incredibly inspirational.

This somewhat exaggerated form of internationalisation is heartily encouraged at universities like mine, because it means diversity, the fountain of all that is good. What the universities don’t realise is that if more and more students become global citizens, there will be less and less diversity. If everyone has the same cosmopolitan, I’ve-seen-it-all view of the world, Shaun from Stoke-on-Trent will fade slowly into the background. It would be a shame, because the global citizens of this world could learn a lot from Shaun.

The fact– and it’s not a good one – is that they are out-competing Shaun mercilessly. After all, we mustn’t kid ourselves, a global-citizen lifestyle naturally comes with a well-filled wallet to fund the relevant international experience and unpaid traineeships you need to get into a place like Oxford. As a consequence, the gap between town and gown grows ever wider.

A similar discussion about the chances of pupils from state schools and those from public schools getting accepted on a bachelor programme at Oxford has raged for years. Children at hideously expensive public schools get better education and are perfectly prepped for the Admission Test while state-school pupils have no help at all. That, obviously, affects their chances considerably, as you can tell by the statistics for the student population.

By the time the students reach their master’s, their CVs are as important as their academic achievements. CVs should reflect how busy the student has been besides his or her academic work and that he or she has gained international experience and has a strong international orientation. To sum up, he or she should be a positive boon to the inclusive, diverse culture craved by the university. The university looks for all sorts of diversity except class diversity and the opinions it would generate.

Of course, a self-perpetuating elite is nothing new. However, it won’t do academic diversity any good if only one view of the world is encouraged – and just imagine the monotony of the obligatory chats that go with it. More than anything, a community with only global citizens would be very boring.

Marit de Roij studied History and Russian Studies in Leiden and is doing a follow-up master’s degree at Oxford.

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