Two UCD-graduates compare their experiences in Belfield with those in the epicentre of scholastic achievement, Oxford University, to Zelda Cunningham.
Although UCD has earned prestige in certain fields, global recognition has so far eluded the university.
The opportunity to study in a universally celebrated college is something, which most students feel is beyond their reach. However, there is an inevitable curiosity about the benefits, or indeed the differences in standards, studying in such a college would be.
Oxford University has a sterling reputation. Historically, it is a haven of scholastic superiority and enlightened education.
Eleanor Cunningham graduated from Law in UCD and continued on to complete the LLM Commercial Masters degree within UCD.
She read a Masters in Human Rights and Jurisprudence in Oxford.
Conor Nagle completed his undergraduate degree in UCD where he studied English and History. He read his Master of Studies in Modern English Literature in Oxford.
He is currently working in his PhD in UCD.
For both graduates, the decision to apply to Oxford was based on the prestigious repuatation of the university.
“Oxford is a very attractive option for an English student, given the history, given the affiliation with various novelists and academics. Even to this date, there are still some massive names in English,” Nagle explains.
Similarly, Cunningham was influenced by the strength of the law facility.
“Oxford really is the best place to study jurisprudence in the world. I only knew of a few highly esteemed lecturers before I applied, but you only appreciate the quality of staff when you arrive in Oxford.”
The workload in Cunningham and Nagles’ courses differed drastically from each other and from their undergraduate degrees in UCD.
Nagle was less pressurised that he had perceived he would be, and he worked the equivalent of what he had studied in UCD’s Arts.
“I had six hours a week. The sky is the limit for the amount of the reading, but it is the usual tutorials reading conundrum of what you choose to should read. ”
Although Oxford is universally considered the pinnacle of English learning, Nagle noted that the disparity in standards between the English departments in UCD and Oxford was quite narrow.
“I wouldn’t say there is a huge amount of difference. Doing a masters degree in UCD, you are usually doing an interesting subject and it is something that you are quite proficient at.” Nagle comments.
“The lecturers may have a better reputation in Oxford, but that doesn’t mean that they are better lecturers. Quite often they aren’t,” Nagle explains, “You will find that the lecturers with fantastic reputations are nearly just coasting on them.”
Upon returning to UCD to complete his English PhD, Nagle commented that his department in Oxford placed too great a stringency on his options, which he found to be quite inhibiting.
“UCD afforded me more freedom, particularly in the subject I am interested. My PhD needs time to dig around. I have a supervisor here that I am very comfortable with and a department who are very helpful.”
In contrast, the deviation in the legal masters between UCD and Oxford was quite extensive.
Completing eight hours of lectures, combined with three essays and 1000 page required reading to be completed each week, Cunningham describes the experience as being “very intensive”.
“You are presenting your essay to the world expert in the field, so you need to be highly informed going into your tutorials!”
Of LLM Commercial in UCD, Cunningham states, “It is far more practically focused. It is aimed at those who are going to work in the narrow section of commercial law.”
For Cunningham, Oxford afforded her the opportunity to expand her intellectual knowledge of law, a chance that is not catered for in commercial masters.
In terms of atmosphere, Nagle describes the efforts of the Oxford University to nurture and embrace a sense of camaraderie amongst students as being an integral part of the experience. This is something that he feels that UCD lacks to do.
On describing his experience in Arts, he expresses “there is nothing there to try and mitigate the loneliness you feel in college.” Something which Nagle feels is exacerbated by modularisation, where classes and years are no longer distinct from each other.
It was very intensive. As you are presenting your essay to the world expert in the field, you need to be highly informed going into your tutorials
“Students (in Oxford) are divided up into one of 39 semi-autonomous colleges. The best way to describe these colleges is as being a fraternity and a dorm. There is an administrative element, but within the colleges, a tight-knit community does develop.”
It is within these colleges where the traditional grandeur of Oxford is still a vibrant aspect of university life, with formal hall dinners and balls, talking place a within ornate buildings, providing an idyllic back cloth to a life of study and socialising.
Both graduates found the experience exhilarating on a social and academic level. They also feel that attending Oxford has inflated their career opportunities.
Cunningham, who is now a trainee solicitor with McCann Fitzgerald, is confident that being an Oxford graduate has its benefits.
“Employers see it on my CV and naturally, it sounds impressive, but reading law in Oxford trains you to think about law in a more rounded way, which has clear practical benefits.”
For Conor Nagle, the prowess of studying in Oxford is also a sturdy paving stone on the road towards his future career in academics.
Both graduates exhault in memories of Oxford, however, they are careful to emphasise that it is not merely a CV booster. It is a “work hard and play hard” system.
“You really have to love your subject and be very comfortable with academic life,” Cunningham advises. “If you do, you will love Oxford.”