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N-Ever to Excel(in The Guardian’s League Table)

A week ago, with a Pret a Manger coffee in hand – the official drink of the Guardian reader – I descended upon Tesco to pick up the Saturday edition of the paper. This week’s,however, differed in weight. For inside, it contained not just my weekly deluge of the “liberal, snowflake agenda” (if you are to believe Steve, Facebook Commenter, who, fromhis profile picture, is an English flag), but also the annual “Good Universities Guide” and its league table of “The Best UK Universities”. αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν – or “ever to excel” to us layfolk – reads the University of St Andrews’ motto. And, excel we did in last year’s league table, snagging its number two spot and finally upsetting the Oxford-Cambridge (Oxbridge) rankings dominance. Indeed, we booted Cambridge into the number three spot! However, to my abject horror, spluttering on my latte, I opened this year’s league table to discover that, once again, St Andrews occupied the third place, closely followed by Durham in fifth place – whose students are also subject to the inaccurate (well, at least sometimes) joke that their university consists solely of Oxbridge rejects. But, before you say that my obsession over league tables sounds like the bitter, disgruntled rumblings of an Oxbridge reject themselves, let me remind you: one cannot be rejected, if one never applies in the first place. Instead, I incessantly chatter about the league tables to all those who will lend me their ears out of admiration for the work ofacademics, administrators, Hall staff, and students alike – and a desire for the casual Guardian reader to be aware of their achievements too. Thus, I argue, let us once again displace the old guard; let us not shy away from a future in which we are able to make the glorious joke that they are populated by those who hadwished to attend St Andrews. In truth, the competition for the top places is narrower than your chances of getting served straight away at the Union during Freshers’ Week.

The league table demonstrates such with only one mere point separating St Andrews from Cambridge and St Andrews beating Oxbridge to first place in rankings of individual subjects such as Politics (International Relations) and Computer Science. It is clear that we compete not only neck-and-neck academically, but also in scenic views, tweed jacket-wearers, and private school boys’ clubs with our Oxbridge adversaries. Therefore, to reclaim our former league table spot we must beat Oxbridge at their own game and close the gaps in the areas which distinguish them from us. Thus, I am presenting the University with a comprehensive list of how I believe we can do just so.

BUILD A CANAL: “The Boat Race” – the annual rowing races held between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge on the Thames – is, perhaps, the most famous rowing event in the calendar, even soliciting television coverage and garnering both its participants publicity and prestige. Thus, if we want to truly be seen as an Oxbridge competitor, we must insert ourselves into this race. (Indeed, while we’re at it, why not insert ourselves into the moniker as well. St Oxbridge has a nice ring to it, does it not?) However, Wikipedia informs me that rowing requires a 2km calm water course. The North Sea will barely suffice in this case. So, it seems glaringly obvious that we must build a canal to rival Venice (we, like Oxford and Cambridge respectively, have a Bridge of Sighs knock off – it’s between the Irvine building and Sally’s Quad, if you’re interested) for our elite rowers to practise upon. But Laura, you may say, what a ridiculous amount of money to waste! Wouldn’t the canal’s cost be better spent on providing accommodation? To this, I reply that no amount of sensible investment will feel as good as the admiring clucks of Guardian readers. And, if our canal is not built in time to train for next year’s boat race, I suppose that the Kinnessburn will have to do.

LATIN EXAMS: No, I don’t mean a Latin exam in addition to our degree subjects; I mean taking all of our current exams in Latin. (However, I acknowledge this may be something of a challenge for modern language students). You see, “Latin responsions”, as they are sometimes known, used to be a mandatory requirement for entrance to, or matriculated students attending, Oxford and Cambridge. They were completed orally and in front of the audience of your entire class in a question and answer format. While they may no longer be part of the curriculum today (having been removed from Oxford’s responsions programme in the 1960s), why not remind said institutions of their former classical prowess? Cogito ergo sum, et cetera, alumni – see, you already know more than you thought! On an unrelated note, does anyone know how to say “International Relations” in Latin?

INTRODUCE A COLLEGIATE SYSTEM: Did you know that St Andrews already officially has colleges? I didn’t until I began writing this article and I’m suspecting that you didn’t either. Although not a collegiate system, the University comprises three colleges: United College, St Mary’s College, and St Leonard’s College. However, if we are to rival the collegiate systems of Oxbridge, we will need at least thirty different colleges where students eat, sleep, and take their tutorials. (Yet, let us skip the one-to-one tutorials that occur at these institutions to this very day as even my waffling powers could not survive that sort of scrutiny with any regularity). Furthermore, these colleges are often named after key figures related to the institution or who represent its values: for example Somerville college, Oxford, was named after the polymath, Mary Somerville, to reflect its liberal values and academic prowess. It subsequently went on to produce the UK’s first female prime minister. Alas, while we may not yet be able to boast that the Purple Man of St Andrews College, or St Jamie Rodney’s College, has produced a prime minister, the kid who voiced Simba in the Lion King walked St Andrews’ hallowed streets. Beat that! In my rational mind, I know that I should pay nerry attention to our placement on one of the many yearly league tables published; for (and excuse my saccharinity) St Andrews is always number one in my league table. However, on the off-chance that my suggestions cross paths with the principal herself, I must ask: what do you think, Principal Mapstone? I’ll take my thanks in cash.

Illustration: Kate Lau

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