"Lah-dahn"? "Lundun"? However you say it, the city is a big deal here in Cambridge Marcin Nowak via Unsplash

Cambridge, nowadays considered an extension of North London, suffers from a hyperfixation with the capital. The realisation of the two cities’ mutual obsession first dawned upon me during Freshers’ Week. As a fellow student proudly stated that they were from the South West, a swift response from a Londoner took me back “so, like Richmond area then?”. The poor non-Londoner only went on to clarify that they lived near Gloucestershire.

As I orientated myself during first term, I quickly realised the interconnectedness of Londoners. Their city, although vast, seems paradoxically intimate where connections are as common as the frequent trains shuttling between stations, a fact I am frequently reminded of. The names of prestigious and famous private schools might not have been foreign to me, but I soon enough became acquainted with the names of affluent state and grammar schools in the London area, which, despite charging no fees, manage to produce numerous Oxbridge mutuals. It became evident that Cambridge, existing as a microcosm and extension of the capital, was fated to mirror the dynamics of London life; during the holidays, The British Library becomes Sidge and Embargoes is the new Rumboogie.

“The British Library becomes Sidge and Embargoes is the new Rumboogie.”

The fascination reached its peak when I, from Leicestershire, was asked why I didn’t own an Oyster card. In fact, this encounter actually made me question my London knowledge; I believed the iconic card to be a relic from the past, with its more effective replacement of contactless cards and Apple Pay to tap in and out. And then there were of course the linguistic differences. I recall being told that if I was going to “have my accent”, then I should at least consider pronouncing “the name of my capital city” correctly. If I am caught saying “London”, instead of my usual “Lun-dun”, please grant me permission; it has become a necessary evolutionary adaptation to survive and fit in during my time at Cambridge. Having said that, I shall never give into the Southern pronunciations of “bath” or “grass”.

However, maybe it isn’t just the Londoners to blame for microcosmic myopia. Back at home, I could not count how many times people have asked me about my uni life in the capital, mistakenly presuming Cambridge to be an area in London and imagining my daily commute passing Big Ben on the way to lectures. We can forgive the South for conflating the North, when the North and Midlands are guilty of the same trick.

It seems the East Anglian city finds itself grappling with an increasingly pervasive challenge that the rest of the country also faces: the relentless pull of London’s centricity, an inevitability that envisages Cambridge metamorphosing into the new Zone 10, accessible via the Elizabeth Line, in years to come. The statistics maintain a clear picture: 29.9% of offers extended by the University found their recipients in Greater London during the 2022 cycle. Cambridge, it seems, has no choice but to render its city welcoming to its southern counterparts, in an effort to make them feel more at home. Even the language represented the bridging of this gap: the act of arriving in Cambridge is curiously termed “coming up”, despite many people physically having to travel down to Cambridge. Even asking a Londoner to walk more than fifteen minutes proves a struggle; that’s just an evening family walk anywhere outside of the M25.

“The system inherently favours those residing in London”

The deeply ingrained London-centric bias in Cambridge does not solely bestow these frivolous advantages, however. From the establishment of pre-fabricated networks and effortless job opportunities to the seamless commute between the two major UK cities, the system inherently favours those residing in London. This bias perpetuates accentuated regional inequalities, placing non-Londoners at a significant disadvantage. Subtle yet impactful aspects such as the oversight of collegiate events not providing accommodation for student helpers with the assumption that you will board a train to King’s Cross exemplifies this disparity.

Let’s be clear however; this is not supposed to be a narrative of disdain for London or its inhabitants. In fact, I’ve been affectionately dubbed a “token Londoner” by my friends. London, with its bustling energy and cosmopolitan nature, is difficult to hate as a tourist. But pardon my slight envy of seamless visits back home during term time, impromptu catch ups with friends scattered across the city during the holidays, whilst I’m relegated and imprisoned in the literal middle of the country during rail strikes.


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So, perhaps what is needed is a greater appreciation for those who reside outside of the walls of the capital, coupled with a concession that we exist in a system that, albeit subtly, does favour Londoners. By embracing a mindset which values inclusivity, the institution can proactively work towards a dismantlement of these biases. Implementing policies that ensure fair access to opportunities and challenging assumptions can be the start of allowing every student the opportunity to feel comfortable and thrive at university, regardless of where they call home.

Yet, in the grand scheme of things, whether you’re a native Londoner now or not, we may all eventually find ourselves entwined in the intricacies of the capital, revelling in the grandeur of the big city, as the Oxbridge pipeline fates us to be.