The ‘Piggate’ allegations highlight the social segregation in higher education

It is hard to imagine university authorities – or fellow students – at Queen Mary, SOAS or London Met tolerating the vandalism, drunkenness, immaturity, elitism and misogyny of the Bullingdon Club


A number of my male friends have admitted to inserting their genitalia in unusual places. One of them went on to have a distinguished career in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Egged on by their peers, most of these incidents took place at school, when the adolescents in question were about 14 years old and usually under the influence of alcohol.

By the time they got to university, my mostly state-educated friends had matured and no longer engaged in such conduct. On reaching adulthood, our peer groups were less tolerant of boorish behaviour, which acted as a check on such actions.

The Lord Ashcroft allegations raise some serious issues, including Cameron’s awareness of his non-dom tax status. But I think ‘Piggate’ also raises issues of social class and social segregation within the UK’s higher education system, as well as university discipline.

The Bullingdon Club and Piers Gaveston Society still exist and still engage in such antics, sustained by an accepting peer group of former public schoolboys. It is hard to imagine university authorities – or fellow students – at Queen Mary, SOAS or London Met tolerating the vandalism, drunkenness, immaturity, elitism and misogyny from the likes of the Bullingdon Club.

It has been interesting to talk to my teenage sons about the Piggate allegations. We were all amused by the jokes that circulated on Twitter. Surprisingly to me, my sons and their friends seem to accept the allegations as an example of the behaviour of the UK’s elite. ‘That’s just the kind of thing they do at Oxford, isn’t it?’ said one of them, sighing.

Although my state-educated children consider themselves to be middle class, my oldest son decided not to apply to Oxford, feeling that the university was for ‘toffs’ and that he would not fit in. Among his friends that applied, all of them chose colleges that had a high intake of state school students, a decision that I also made in 1977, when I decided to apply to Oxford.

One of my concerns is that Piggate damages the image of Oxford University and undoes its attempts to increase its intake of state-educated students, particularly those from low income families. Here the university has far to go. Just under 7 per cent of UK-educated children attend independent schools. This figure has been fairly constant since the 1960s. Yet in 1978, when I took up my place at St Anne’s College, Oxford, 53 per cent of Oxford University’s UK undergraduates came from independent schools.

Skip forward to 2014, 46 per cent of Oxford’s UK undergraduates came from independent schools, with the ex-pupils of Eton, Westminster and St Paul’s snapping up 260 places between them. At the same time, two in three state schools sent no pupils to Oxbridge.

Although the state-educated now make up the majority of Oxford’s UK-domiciled undergraduates, those from comprehensive schools are under-represented, compared to those from academically selective schools. Undergraduates who were once entitled to free school meals are even more likely to be under-represented, with just 50 such undergraduates admitted in 2011.

Despite greater access to university education and many widening participation initiatives, little progress has been made to increase Oxford’s intake of students from low income families over nearly 40 years. This is an issue for all Russell Group universities; it’s just that this trend is most marked at Oxford and Cambridge.

There are many reasons for this, which include A-Level grades, choice of A-Level subjects and the confidence of prospective students at interview. Risk adverse college tutors who interview and admit students in small often take more polished and articulate public school product. (There are strong arguments for taking the responsibility for admissions away from Oxbridge colleges and handing them to university departments).

Research also suggests that any bright state-educated students are also put off by their perceptions about Oxbridge or their teachers’ perceptions. A Sutton Trust poll in 2014 claimed that 40 per cent of state school teachers “rarely or never” suggest that academically gifted pupils apply to either Oxford or Cambridge, because they believe their pupils have stand little chance of success, or simply will not fit in. In the latter respect, the Piggate affair will not have improved perceptions about Oxbridge.

All English universities now sign an annual agreement with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). These set out targets to improve university access among under-represented groups, including those from low income families. Set up ten years ago, OFFA’s access agreements have led to progress, although this needs to be seen in context of increased access to university by students from all sectors of society. But efforts to get more state-school students into Oxford are remarkably slow, and even slower from those from low income families.

For me, the Piggate allegations highlight the social segregation in the higher education sector. The University of Oxford should look long and hard at its image and the behaviour of some of its students. It also needs to overhaul its admissions system and push harder on widening participation. In 2015 the continued grip of a few public schools on my old university is a barrier to social mobility.

Jill Rutter is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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27 Responses to “The ‘Piggate’ allegations highlight the social segregation in higher education”

  1. Mark

    Oh no. My Comprehensive school A level geography trip shenanigans now count for nothing.
    This included illicit drinking, smoking, sex, destruction of furniture and people shot in the bum with air guns.
    I think we can all do it if we put our minds to it.


    The Bic Pen and barley were my favourite way of inflicting pain.

  3. Norfolk29

    You could mention how expensive it is to spend three years at Oxbridge. Comprehensive students come from lower income groups and are normally adverse to debt, especially unnecessary debt. Unless something is done about how expensive Oxbridge is, I cannot see any increase in poorer students. As for Cameron and his Bullingdon chums, can anyone be surprised at their feeling that normal rules of behaviour do not apply to them. Another One of them may be Mayor of London next year.

  4. GhostofJimMorisson

    The University of Oxford should look long and hard at its image and the behaviour of some of its students.

    Rubbish! This is middle-class moralising and prudishness, with a dash of class hatred, nothing more; the same moralising displayed towards the working classes on a Friday night. They may be toffs, but they’re young and silly, and being young and silly is not a crime.

  5. steroflex

    Jill, the Russians and Chinese both used State Schools for the children of their elite. So long as the aparatchiki are separated from the plebs, the system can work. As soon as the idiots are let into the classroom, disrupting the lessons and discouraging the teachers, you get – well – chaos. That is why I had to stop being a Supply Teacher.
    Am I allowed – without the usual thoughtless howls of protest – to add the decline of sensible and dedicated male teachers too? In the Grammar/Sec Mod School days, when the two sexes/genders were separated, the results, the morale, the standards were much higher. Many Public Schools today still have their male staff as Housemasters. That helps.

  6. JoeDM

    Student pranks.

    Get over it.

  7. Jimmy Sands

    The charcuterie story was amusing, but shouldn’t it be of slightly more concern that a dodgy banker implicated in corruption allegations in the colonies was apparently able to purchase a position in the department responsible for investigating, rejecting it only because it was insufficiently grand?

  8. Archiblog

    We need an integrated and comprehensive supply system as an alternative to the current concept of university.

  9. Syzergy_Point

    Don’t disagree with you on this, although my time at a CHE was far from one of pure commitment and studiousness. But getting more successful state school kids one extra rung up to the elite club doesn’t seem like a huge priority to me. How about the kids who never go to university at all, or the lack of good quality apprenticeships? These are much more pressing problems,

  10. Patrick Nelson

    It seems pretty clear to me that “illicit drinking, smoking, sex, destruction of furniture and people shot in the bum with air guns.” do not fit in at all the same class as humping the head of a dead pig, either privately or in public.

  11. Patrick Nelson

    “RESPONDING to allegations about oral sex with a dead pig would be ‘undignified’, according to a man who once had oral sex with a dead pig.

    The man said it would be ‘beneath him’ to comment on the disgusting thing that he did with a dead pig while being cheered on by some other equally vile men.

    The man, who is now known by everyone as ‘the dead pig oral sex guy’, added: “I’m better than that.”

    It is understood the man is now focused on ‘getting on with the job’ and is determined to put the oral sex with a dead pig behind him.

    But experts stressed the man’s job was one of those positions where it is important not to be known as ‘the dead pig oral sex guy’.

    Professor Henry Brubaker, from the Institute for Studies, said: “A few years ago a man in a similar line of work became known as ‘the cigar up the vagina guy’. And he still is.

    “That was very bad. But I think we can all agree it’s not quite as bad as being ‘the dead pig oral sex guy’.”

    I don’t think people either in the UK or abroad (indeed more so abroad) will ever see David Cameron the same again.

    In fact there are now millions of people across the globe who know two things about David Cameron 1. He is the British Prime Minister 2. his former friend says that he molested a dead pig.
    Two words sum up this situation – national embarrassment. Cameron has become an international joke figure and by extension Britain has become the butt of jokes. He should go.

  12. stevep

    The media has delighted in airing the various misdemeanors of the Prime Minister and now, mostly, they will seek to keep it as quiet as possible, passing the incidents off as student pranks and high jinks, just as they do when a Royal or a Toff gets found out with their trousers down or dressing up in Nazi regalia.

    It would be interesting to see the media reaction and the reaction of some of the far-right trolls on this page if it was Jeremy Corbyn that had been found out and reported on. There would be an endless barrage of outrage, real and fake, lasting months and years. The clamour would be deafening.

    The stench of hypocrisy would be overwhelming.

    If nothing else, this incident will serve as a barometer of the state of the UK media and where their affections lie.

  13. Lamia

    It is hard to imagine university authorities – or fellow students – at
    Queen Mary, SOAS or London Met tolerating the vandalism, drunkenness, immaturity, elitism and misogyny from the likes of the Bullingdon Club.

    Queen Mary, SOAS, London Met and other London universities have for many years tolerated the frequent hosting of preachers who don’t merely mock other groups in society, they advocate far worse: the oppression, segregation and covering up of women, and making their legal status only half that of a man. They advocate the rape of young girls, and the persecution and murder of Jews and homosexuals.

    Personally I think that’s by some way a far more serious matter, but I accept that for some people those may appear to be plus points about those London universities. In any case, clearly you seem to think that rich Tories being berks behind closed doors is worse than preachers advocating harm against mere Jews, gay people et al, or you wouldn’t be citing QM, SOAS and London Met’s supposed moral superiority in this matter, would you?

    You could hardly have chosen nastier ‘superior’ candidates, Jill. And you are a senior person at a public think tank, the Institute for Public Policy and Research. Don’t you think you should know about these things?

  14. GhostofJimMorisson

    Bollocks. It’s already today’s chip paper. The Corbyn pantomime, however just keeps on getting better and better. Today’s farce: appointing a vegan as farming minister. You couldn’t script it! Can’t wait to see what he’s gonna do next, the silly old sod.

  15. Lamia

    That’s weak.

    1. There is no supporting evidence for this but the word of a self-admittedly bitter tax exile.

    2. Even if true, this was the idiocy of undergrad. It does not compare to an MP in his 40s/50s/60s associating with terrorists and extremists.

    You are correct on one thing: the press would have made much more of this if it were Corbyn in the frame. But

    1. Corbyn’s done enough that’s repellent as an MP that even then this would not rate as one of the worst things he had done.

    2. You and the other true believers would yourselves be passing such behaviour off as the actions of a silly young man and pointing out that his accuser had a self-admitted grudge.

  16. stevep

    I`ve seen and heard some ropey right-wing spin in my time, but you take the biscuit!
    Are you seriously trying to say that talking to various factions in the name of understanding and peace (and yes, Tory leaders have done it too), is more outrageous and repellent than putting your genitals inside a pigs`s mouth? Alleged student jape or not.
    Even the SunMail would blanche at that one.

  17. Lamia

    Are you seriously trying to say that talking to various factions in the
    name of understanding and peace (and yes, Tory leaders have done it
    too), is more outrageous and repellent than putting your genitals inside
    a pigs`s mouth? Alleged student jape or not.

    Question begging. Corbyn has only ever talked to the factions he already with, and only to give them his support, not to urge them to compromise. He has never talked with the opponents of the IRA, Hamas, Hezbollah or of other Islamists.

    (and yes, Tory leaders have done it

    British governments, Tory and Labour, have always talked with their enemies. It’s part of their job. Corbyn was not leader of the Labour party, he was just a backbencher with no state authority whatsoever. and he wasn’t negotiating, he was being a bootlicker.

    Maybe you`re just an apologist for the poverty-deniers.

    Maybe you’re just an apologist for Holocaust-deniers, terrorists, slavers, rapists and murderous antisemites and homophobes. Your hero Corbyn certainly is.

  18. Patrick Nelson

    That’s what you wish : )

  19. stevep

    Well, coming out with verbose hysterical tripe like that marks you down as even more right-wing than the average rabid SunMail reader. Let`s see….. Daily Express maybe, they support UKIP these days. Perhaps with your mention of holocaust denial and Israel, the Jewish Chronicle maybe, their trolls visit this site fairly regularly.
    Naw, you`re just a far-right windbag, running scared of Jeremy.
    It`s quite amusing how a good dose of proposed left-wing policies can have so many trolls shitting their pants.

  20. Lamia

    Corbyn has just become the first Labour leader ever to register a negative public rating from the start. By your logic, the iceberg that sank the Titanic was ‘running scared’ of the ship.

    In five years time, the extent of your idiotic delusion may finally become clear to you. Enjoy the next few years on your bubble of madness.

  21. stevep

    Laughable nonsense!
    The world`s moved on from your naïve assumptions, even since the election.
    There`s no great love for right-wing politics in the UK, despite the best efforts of the media sycophants. Cameron rehearsed his own farewell speech before the unexpected result.
    In two years time, the EU in/out vote will seriously damage the Conservatives and render UKIP irrelevant.
    Three or more years of austerity politics and poverty denial will have the UK champing at the bit for change. The far-right media is dwindling with more and more people getting information from the internet, they won`t be able to keep a lid on things.
    Meanwhile, The Labour Party and other progressive Left-of-centre parties will be waiting patiently, quietly putting across common-sense, democratic alternatives.
    That`s what`s really got you and your ilk pooping your trousers, scuttling from under your stones and trolling on decent progressives sites like LFF in a panicky attempt to try to force the worms back in the can.
    News for you, it ain`t gonna happen. Not on my watch. Or thousands of others.

  22. Lamia

    There`s no great love for right-wing politics in the UK

    Correct. What you can’t compute is that there’s no great love for left-wing politics either, and that Corbyn’s views on a number of (not all) policies, while they may seem normal and reasonable to you, seem very far left and unpleasant to many more people. It is not far right or even right wing to note that.

    News for you, it ain`t gonna happen. Not on my watch. Or thousands of others.

    Sad tough guy posturing.

    Only a fanatic
    could take a new leader starting with a negative public rating as a sign
    of that leader’s massive public appeal. Only an idiot could think that Corbyn being a fan of the IRA and other assorted terrorists would make him popular with anyone but the small and creepy minority of the British population. In five years time you’ll be in tearful shock, finally
    digesting what people have been telling you for years. But if you want to insist on driving the Labour party over an electoral cliff, go ahead.

  23. stevep

    No, it`s not “sad tough guy posturing”. It`s just little old me and legions of others who`ve had enough of the far-right hurling vile abuse at anything deemed left of Attilla the Hun. It`s time for redress. Long overdue.

    We don`t want a society with greed, selfishness and servility as its dominant attributes.

    We want a society based on fairness, decency and real democracy.

    People like you, trolling on behalf of the former, fail to realise that most people, in their hearts, want the latter.

    I don`t know specifically who you are an activist for, although I could take a guess, but you will fail.

    As for “tearful shock”, don`t make me laugh. Politics is a long game and very little surprises or shocks me any more, especially the predictions of blatant trolls like you.

    However, political events can also move rapidly and sudden shifts do happen, so don`t count your chickens, as the old saying goes.

    I`m sure that there is a “small and creepy minority” who have sold their souls and sunk so low that they would rather see someone who allegedly put his penis in a dead pig`s mouth, as Prime Minister, than a thoroughly decent man like Jeremy Corbyn who even his opponents call a gent.

    As for living in a “dreamworld”, I`d much rather that, than live in the nightmare world of your imaginings.

    So let`s wait and see who dreams the best dream.

  24. jj

    “allegedly’, do get over it though….

  25. Jerome Orff

    Mr. Piggie went through a standard initiation process that has been a commonplace of ruling elites the world over. In this relatively benign country it did not involve the murder or rape of some hated homeless person (or other poor non-person)… but that is the method: Prove That You Hate The Underclass! How else can you ever govern OUR empire – the empire of “We The Chosen” against the unwashed masses of “We The People” (and their illusions of Democracy)? These elite societies train their adoptees in applied psychopathy, the better to govern through lies and spin when years later policies must be introduced that will even drive genuinely needy people to suicide.

  26. Jerome Orff

    You think that ad hominem is a good argument style, clearly.

  27. Jerome Orff

    Don’t feed the trolls – they just crave your attention. They get paid for visibility. 😉 Yes, I am indeed making an assumption – when it gets ad hominem, that’s a troll.

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