That Cambridge-Oxford rivalry

Recently, my Facebook timeline was flooded with our alums posting an article written by the Economist about how the city of Cambridge was pulling ahead of Oxford in terms of economic growth. There was, as you can imagine, a certain sense of good-humoured triumphalism in some of these posts.

I am not a subscriber to the Economist (I was until their iPad app kept breaking some years ago and I never went back) but someone drew my attention to an exchange of letters to their editor following this article. The first was a letter from the University of Oxford refuting the central hypothesis that Oxford was trailing Cambridge and the second was a response from Sherry Coutu, Sir Herman Hauser (one of the founders of ARM) and other prominent figures in the Cambridge entrepreneurial scene.

I can’t even pretend to be an expert on this issue but I was drawn to the following section of Coutu’s letter.

“a much more important reason for Cambridge’s success is that it has developed a culture of collaboration. Cambridge has more than 60 networks bringing together academics, industry and capital to help companies succeed. We said as much in our report.Collaboration and networking are a better way forward and we would like to see Oxford and Cambridge working together for the benefit of Britain. Let’s be positive about what both cities have to offer, rather than seeing each other as opponents. After all, the issue is global competition, not local rivalries.”

This sentiment resonated with what I have felt with respect to both business schools. While some friendly rivalry is useful to spur each other to innovate and improve, there is also much to be gained from collaboration. Having said that, collaboration is easier said than done.

I remember someone who was involved heavily in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race telling me that there is a significant difference in the way both teams approached the Boat Race. The Cambridge team would motivate itself by trying to be the best that it could be. The Oxford team motivates itself by the thought of beating Cambridge. Now I can’t attest to the accuracy of this statement but if true, it does suggest that collaboration might come more easily to Cambridge. And maybe that’s why collaboration is one of the key pillars of the ethos at the Cambridge MBA.

One final note. Oxford’s team holds a commanding lead in recent years when it comes to wins at the Boat Race. Which just goes to show that collaboration alone doesn’t get you success.

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