Oxford University students “can’t spell, read or think”, say their tutors

Students at the UK’s top university lack “basic common sense”, report finds

They might have beaten hundreds of other applicants for their place at the third-best university in the world, but it seems some Oxford University students might as well have walked in “off the street”.

Professor Colin Mills, a sociology tutor at Oxford said in a report that students appeared as though they knew nothing about the subject they were studying.

“In general there was far too much ‘bloke down the pub’ waffle and in some cases exceptionally little evidence that the candidate had actually read anything of relevance,” Prof Mills wrote.

“It is indeed troublesome to read scripts that might as well have been written by someone walking into Schools [Oxford’s examination hall] off the street without even the slightest acquaintance with lectures and tutorials.”

Another report said one examiner thought there at been “a significant decline” in standards since the last time the examiner marked papers.

One report criticised students’ lack of basic common sense.

“Thus the examiners were repeatedly informed that rainfall is an extraordinary/non-natural/dangerous use of land by the owner, as are trees, silt and drainage ditches, and that grazing cattle on pastures is an hypersensitive (and non-natural) use of farmland,” said the report.

Other issues included:

  • Classics students misspelling the word Mediterranean, despite the word coming from Latin and being on the front of the paper
  • “A disconcerting number of candidates seemed to find it difficult to express their thoughts in writing,” said a psychology professor
  • Drawing a pencil sketch of a book character during a translation exam
  • “Extremely weak” grasp of sentence structure and syntax, according to one French tutor

An Oxford University spokesman said: “A minority of colourful comments by examiners makes interesting reading, but they reflect neither the opinion of most Oxford examiners nor the overall academic competence of Oxford undergraduates.”

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Readers' comments (6)

  • a wake up call.....Oxford must maintain its reputation and acedamic excellence !!!!

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  • Anonymous

    They have poor student quotas.

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  • Ah - Our future Politicians in the making - no hope for us really!

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  • Anonymous


    Made up as these students are of the pampered and the privileged, who buy their way from one cushy situation to another based more on who their daddy is and what school they went to than any kind of ability or merit, this comes as no surprise.

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  • You don't get into Oxbridge purely on merit and academic brilliance unless you are from a poorer background or a minority ethnic somebody who has had to be outstanding to get in, otherwise most of OXBRIDGE is made up coached privileged public/independent school students or children of the great and mighty who have been primed to get in or have been given direct entry. It's only going to get worse in terms of graduate quality even though research reputation might be one of the best in the world.

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  • I should have an axe to grind on this issue having been very disappointed when my son fell at the last hurdle/interview stage to get in to Cambridge to study Medicine. Having achieved the best results at A level in 4 science subjects in his year at Grammar school we felt sure he was destined to enter the hallowed chambers of the elite University. It was not to be, despite him coming from a relatively underprivileged background financially, and entitled to a bursary. He did however get in to another Russell group Med. School and has thrived, with no sorrow at missing his original goal of Cambridge. I do now believe though that if Oxbridge is to succeed in the highly competitive world global marketplace for higher education for the very brightest students it cannot afford to accept students for anything other than their academic abilities. Their ranking and prestige would soon drop if they were to accept students these days 'because daddy went there'

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