Ronald Coyne in white tie at a Cambridge University Conservative Association event

Cambridge is an environment steeped in privilege, some good – hard work, intellect, history – and some bad. An attempt to remedy the bad comes in the form of Ronald Coyne’s apology, issued yesterday, over the infamous video of his attempt to set a £20 note alight in front of a homeless man.

The incident rightly sparked national outrage. And whilst his apology was entirely necessary, it fundamentally fails to reflect on the wider class problems in Cambridge culture – which, through his choices, have now become largely his responsibility.

The apology recognises that he “put the entire university in a negative light”, but only briefly. It does not acknowledge the existing sore points around Cambridge privilege that he so dramatically inflamed. Cambridge has problems with class that go beyond this incident, and Coyne, in his apology, fails to realise that his actions were a massive reinforcement of these problems.

“Coyne fails to realise that his actions only reiterate existing preconceptions about Cambridge students”

Cambridge is not seen as inclusive by the wider world. The Daily Mail articles on this incident garnered over three and a half thousand comments. What is most distressing about them is that they don’t seem to be especially shocked or surprised. Commenters’ existing preconceptions were confirmed – that “these are the kind of students Cambridge turns out”, and multiple criticisms that he was not expelled. To many, Ronald Coyne’s actions just reminded the British public that Oxbridge students do not live in the ‘real world’, and they wouldn’t be wholly wrong in thinking this.

May Balls, especially the mandatory white tie of my own college, are a very public display of extravagance. Tickets can cost more than £200 per person, so balls require quite a high degree of financial privilege to attend. Pictures from national newspapers emphasise the unfittingly debauched behaviour of students in such a sophisticated environment. Coyne, dressed in white tie, reflects these criticisms exactly. C-Sunday is another example of the sheer thoughtlessness of Cambridge students from a public perspective, as large numbers descend on Jesus Green, drinking and running riot.

Coyne, again, fails to realise that his actions only reiterate existing preconceptions about Cambridge students – that we are selfish, that we see ourselves as superior to basic human decency or consideration. His description of Cambridge as a place that is “positive, accepting, and friendly” is also fundamentally naïve. It might be that way for him, a white man from a well-off background, attending Stewart’s Melville College (which can cost over £20,000 per year), but for many it’s alienating and exclusionary.

The vast majority of people could not attend such a school. 93 per cent of students attend a state school through their education, yet state school students only make up 52 per cent of final Cambridge places in the 2016 admissions figures. Approximately 7 per cent of under 16, and 18% of 16-18 year olds attend independent schools. Yet, according to the 2016 admission statistics, they received 22% of the offers, and 24% of the eventual places.

Take my experience at my first and only mock interview, the week before my Cambridge interview. It took place at KES, a Birmingham private school – where the 70 boys of 110 Upper Sixth going to interview had been practicing since February. This isn’t to say Cambridge is a bad or hostile place. It certainly is, however, a more natural environment to some than others, and Ronald Coyne fits the demographic that should (and does) feel right at home.

Ronald Coyne’s apology, therefore, was perhaps enough as a very basic show of remorse. After all, everybody makes mistakes when they are young, drinking, and eager to impress. However it is incredibly revealing, especially to those outside of Cambridge, and reflects the colossal problems with class at this university, that the mistake he chose to make as a Cambridge student, CUCA member, and white-tie wearer, was this

Sponsored links