People from History.SE told me to ask my question here.

I have to make a presentation for English class about this question.

I found it very interesting because a lot of Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom studied at Oxford University. But I am not a specialist in matters relating to the UK nor a historian. I am just studying chemical engineering at school.

So I would be glad if some people can provide some information about how Oxford University influences politics in the United Kingdom. I did read the Wikipedia page about Ox. University but it doesn't help me for the moment and I don't really know where I can find helpful resources.

  • 4
    You will enjoy this recent Guardian article - theguardian.com/education/2017/feb/23/…
    – Andrew
    Mar 7 '17 at 16:05
  • Can you give us a little more to go on? What kind of influence are you looking for? They likely lobby for some positions, their professors are likely influential in some policy areas, their students probably go on to influence politics, the list could go on forever. Mar 10 '17 at 0:29
  • @indigochild well you know I choose that subject but I really don't know a lot about the UK system of politics. I am working on that question for three weeks now but I'm still stuck a little because this is really hard to answer. I have my presentation next week and I almost finished it. So when I asked the question I thought maybe some native could have some clues. I tried to do my best on that I have not only that to do for my school as you may imagine. I will what my native UK teacher think about what I made and maybe I'll continue to work on it and try at my level to answer the question.
    – ParaH2
    Mar 10 '17 at 0:35

That's a very complicated question, but an obvious reading is to say it has a lot to do with class. If you come from a wealthy, "old-money" family - you can rest assured than when you come to want a job, your parents or any number of their friends are going to have well-paid positions waiting for you.

So after an incredibly expensive private education, getting into an Oxbridge school isn't going to be too hard. Where students from more modest backgrounds may choose to study something with more clearly defined career paths, an upper-class kid can pick something like Philosophy, thinking it's a bit of a doss subject (perhaps). That's not to throw shade at Philosophy, but subjects like that cost just the same as others which have far more tangible job prospects.

As finding well-paid, executive work is never a concern for kids of the "elite", they can afford to read subjects that for others would simply be impractical.

Again, not to tar everyone with the same brush, but if you read about some of the hijinks famous Oxford students got up to during their time there (like the infamous Bullingdon Club), its a wonder they left with anything above a 2:2.

So how does this play into how Oxford Uni influences British politics? Well there are a couple of things you could observe from Oxford that are reflected in the British political establishment.

Debating is a big part of what the Oxford Union is about, and they frequently have famous speakers come in to debate a variety of topics (a lot of them are posted to YouTube). The despatch boxes, and often fiery exchanges - moderated by a chairman to whom the speakers should direct their sentences ("It seems to me, Mr Chairman, that blah blah..."). All of this is mirrored in the House of Commons, the house of elected Members of Parliament. So students at Oxford (if they so chose) spend time getting used to (and perhaps enjoying) this environment, and so going into politics seems appealing.

Going back to class, as a lot of kids at Oxford come from money, they are likely to have a vested interest to protect that money, and so either support or are members of the Conservative party. Conservatives (also called Torries) generally believe in lower taxes and a reduced wellfare state (though the actual strength of the left/right wing balance is far less clear than it is with Dems/Reps).

Coming from money, it's much easier then to get into politics. While MPs are paid a decent salary (and that's before perks), you may have to spend several years campaigning before you can get elected - and of course there's no guarantee that'll happen. Your average Joe needs to be getting paid all of the time to support himself.

I could go on for some time on this, but the truth is there is no real cause and effect here. Just generalizations and things we've observed over the years. A lot of leading British politicians went to Oxford, and shared memberships of various exclusive clubs and unions. The "old boys network" is clearly observable, especially within the Tory party.

So while Oxford as in institution isn't doing much to directly influence British politics (in my opinion), a large portion of kids who go there thrive (for the better and worse) in the environment and culture that exists there. This applies especially to the Torries, but can also be seen other leading parties. As the Conservatives are the current governing party, the influence of the time they spent at uni (along with the friends they made) perhaps seems more prevalent.


Oxford University offers a degree in "Philosophy, Politics and Economics", more usually known as PPE. This is widely regarded as an undergraduate degree in how to be a politician; a worryingly large proportion of the political elite list the Oxford PPE as their degree subject, so the material taught on this degree has an outsize influence on the way that the British Establishment thinks.

This article in the Guardian has more details:

More than any other course at any other university, more than any revered or resented private school, and in a manner probably unmatched in any other democracy, Oxford PPE pervades British political life. From the right to the left, from the centre ground to the fringes, from analysts to protagonists, consensus-seekers to revolutionary activists, environmentalists to ultra-capitalists, statists to libertarians, elitists to populists, bureaucrats to spin doctors, bullies to charmers, successive networks of PPEists have been at work at all levels of British politics – sometimes prominently, sometimes more quietly – since the degree was established 97 years ago.

The Oxford Union (the University debating society) also provides PPE students with a training ground in the practical arts of rhetoric and persuasion. Many other universities have debating societies of course, but the combination of PPE and formal debate provides an unparalleled foundation for a political career.

Finally, even for those not intent on a career in politics as such, an Oxford degree provides an opportunity to meet and befriend those who are likely to be the political elite of the future. I don't have any evidence, but it certainly seems likely that Oxford graduates from other subjects will be able to leverage these personal relationships in their future careers, again leading to an outsize influence for the university as a whole.

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