“How did you fail the Oxbridge interview and come to Imperial?” This was one of the most common (and embarrassing) questions I have heard since coming here. Imperial is one of the top universities, and there was a time, particularly in 2015, Imperial even surpassed Oxford and ranked 2nd in QS World University Ranking. But the weird thing is that despite continuously staying in the top 10 list of QS, Imperial still cannot get rid of the “honorary title”: Top Backup Choice for Oxbridge Students. Of course, coming to Imperial doesn’t mean that we’re anyway subordinate to Oxbridge students. But from time to time, I would wonder whether there will be a day when Imperial gives up the title of “Oxbridge backup” and proudly stands alongside not only Oxbridge but Harvard and MIT. As Imperial students, we all share the responsibility to better our community, and I believe we all hope this will one day come true. I am writing this article to share some thoughts on this hot topic, and hopefully, it will light the way.
So, isn’t the ranking accurate enough to show the competence? Well, forget about QS ranking. If given appropriate time, an average person won’t find it hard to realise that Yale is not on the top 10 list. The same goes for Princeton, Columbia, and UC Berkeley. Top-tier universities don’t necessarily need a good ranking to let people know that “they are good”. And in fact, Imperial owns the title of “top 10” only for QS this year—not in Times, not in US News, and not in ARWU. This is nothing to really brag about, and surely it cannot be our biggest advertisement. Just suppose next year Imperial drops out of the top 10 QS list. How awkward it shall be!
Where are we lagging? Notably, alumni. One of the most significant contrasts between Imperial and top-tier players should be the number of Nobel Prize winners. Harvard has 165, Cambridge 121, Oxford 72, but Imperial has only 14 officially. The Nobel Winner page on the Imperial website has been quiet for more than 40 years (the latest laureate was Abdus Salam in 1979). Frankly speaking, except for a few people like Alexander Fleming, we can barely find any household names. This strange phenomenon has even aroused doubts on whether Imperial is only nominally good. It’s not easy to get a Nobel Prize. It’s even harder to get household names (how many Nobel laurates’ names can you remember?). But that’s the characteristic of a top-tier player.
Don’t frown. There is a way we can change it. The time has come that we should not be blinded by competition with other universities but flourish in our own unique way. Students, professors, staff, and researchers should not come to Imperial merely for trivial personal interest, namely money. What we need are scientists, engineers, businessmen, and doctors aimed to lead and change the world. What we need most is AMBITION.
Once, I heard somebody say that Imperial lacks the soul. It holds true today. And facing up to this dilemma is more urgent than ever. Last year, we cancelled the motto Scientia imperii decus et tutamen to protest against colonialism, yet we’re still embarrassingly using the colonial name, “Imperial” College London. Positioning ourselves in the 21stCentury where the colonial empire has long collapsed, countries worldwide are caught in a fierce science and technology race, and humans are facing an unprecedented climate crisis, what kind of new role shall we play?
The mission lies on us. The students, researchers, staff—everybody in this university shares the responsibility to find our way forward. President Alice Gast, and the incoming President Hugh Brady, should aim at uniting the university and reigniting the university’s mission in the 21st Century. Researchers, students, staff alike—dream big, work hard, go where there is no path and leave a trail.
It’s not Oxbridge that matters. They are not worthwhile for us to waste time on them. Ignite the passion, make the difference, and follow our heart. We are from Imperial College London, and we will pave our way.