John Locke Institute Essay Competition - 2021
Announcing the 2021 essay questions.
Deadline for submissions is Wednesday, 30 June 2021 at 11:59pm, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
The John Locke Institute encourages young people to cultivate the characteristics that turn good students into great writers: independent thought, depth of knowledge, clear reasoning, critical analysis and persuasive style. Our Essay Competition invites students to explore a wide range of challenging and interesting questions beyond the confines of the school curriculum.
Entering an essay in our competition can build knowledge, and refine skills of argumentation. It also gives students the chance to have their work assessed by experts. All of our essay prizes are judged by senior academics from the University of Oxford. The judges will choose their favourite essay from each subject category and an overall 'best essay' across seven subjects: Philosophy, Politics, Economics, History, Psychology, Theology and Law.
2021 Essay Questions
Q1. Are there some subjects about which we should not even ask questions?
Q2. What is slavery? Is jury duty? Is conscription? Is income tax?
Q3. Are you more moral than most people you know? How do you know? Should you strive to be more moral? Why or why not?
Q1. Discrimination on the basis of race is widely condemned, but on the basis of nationality it is widely accepted. Is it not odd that you may not discriminate against me for where my great-great-grandparents were born, but you may discriminate against me for where my parents were born?
Q2. Should the John Locke Institute change its name?
Q3. Do we need Greta?
Q1. How would the education sector change if governments were no longer involved?
Q2. There is considerable excess demand for undergraduate places at Oxford. The admissions process rations supply by favouring cleverer students at the expense of others. Is this fair? Does it exacerbate inequality? What is the University’s optimal response to this scarcity?
Q3. Should we abolish the minimum wage?
Q1. Should we judge those from the past by the standards of today? How will historians in the future judge us?
Q2. Has the ‘construct of gender’ been more beneficial or more harmful to humanity throughout history?
Q3. ‘More history has happened in Oxford, per square foot, than any other place in the world.’ Discuss.
Q1. Do we do everything we do to maximise our own utility?
Q2. ‘The function of religions and cults, including the political or ideological ones, is to short-circuit the normal ‘common sense’ process of doubt, investigation, further doubt, further investigation… a belief system only requires a rule book (sacred scripture, Das Kapital, or whatever) and a good memory.’ Is this true? Does it matter?
Q3. Who is responsible for my mental health?
Q1. Is Christianity a religion of peace?
Q2. Why did Jesus of Nazareth reserve his strongest condemnation for the self-righteous?
Q3. Did God create coronavirus?
Q1. Should ‘innocent until proven guilty’ apply not only to courts of law, but also to public censure?
Q2. To what extent does a codified constitution help or hinder liberty?
Q3. When should force of law prevent a transaction, entered into freely between two competent, consenting adults?
(Entries are invited from candidates whose fifteenth birthday will be after the date of the submission deadline, 30 June 2021.)
Q1. Should we raise the voting age to 25?
Q2. Should the John Locke Institute change its name?
Q3. Is Oxford overrated?
Q4. Just because you’re a millionaire doesn’t mean you should get better healthcare than the rest of us, does it?
Q5. What should we do to improve the lives of poor people?
Q6. Have things improved?
Q7. Before a certain time almost everybody would have held some belief which we now find repugnant. Does this mean we cannot admire or commemorate the people who helped to shape the modern world?
Q8. Should the law ever prevent people from freely making self-harming decisions? If so, what should and shouldn’t be forbidden - and according to which principles?
Entry requirements and further details
Entry is open to students from any country and any school. Candidates must be eighteen years old, or younger, on the date of the submission deadline, 30 June 2021. (Candidates for the Junior Prize must be fourteen years old, or younger, on the date of the submission deadline.)
Each essay should address only one of the questions in your chosen subject category, and must not exceed 2000 words (not counting diagrams, tables of data, footnotes, bibliography or authorship declaration). Please submit your essay, saved in pdf format, through our website. The title of the pdf attachment should read SURNAME, First Name (e.g. POPHAM, Alexander).
Wednesday, 30 June 2021: Submission deadline
Wednesday, 14 July: Short-listed candidates notified
Winners will be announced at the award ceremony in Oxford (date to be advised).
There is a prize for the best essay in each subject category. Each subject prize is worth £100, and the essays will be published (with the authors' permission) on the Institute website. The prize-giving ceremony will take place in Oxford, at which winners and runners-up will be able to meet the judges and other faculty members of the John Locke Institute. Family, friends, and teachers are also welcome, subject to capacity constraints.
The candidate who submits the best essay overall will be awarded an honorary John Locke Institute Junior Fellowship, worth £500.
The judges' decisions are final, and no correspondence will be entered into.
Essays will be judged on the level of knowledge and understanding of the relevant material, the quality of argumentation, the structure, writing style and persuasive force. Candidates are advised to answer the question as precisely and directly as possible.
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"I hope you will find this year's questions thought-provoking, and that you will be one of the thousands of contestants from over a hundred different countries to submit an essay to what has become the world's largest essay competition. Not only will the experience of researching and writing the essay be a valuable learning experience, but the shortlisted candidates will be invited to Oxford to join with other talented young people who have thought carefully about the same question, for a unique series of precepts under the experienced leadership of an academic expert."
Martin Cox, Director of the John Locke Institute
I haven't received an acknowledgment that my essay has been submitted. Have you received it?
We receive a great many submissions. We will write to all candidates by Wednesday 14 July when we announce the Short List. If you have not received an email by that date, you are welcome to email us to confirm that we did receive and consider your essay, but please check your spam folder first.
Are footnotes or bibliography or reference list counted towards the word limit?
No. Only the body of the essay is counted.
Are in-text citations counted towards the word limit?
If you are using an in-text based referencing format, such as APA, your in-text citations are included in the word limit.
Is it necessary to include footnotes in an essay?
You don’t need to include footnotes, but you should give your sources of any factual claims you make, and you should acknowledge any other authors on whom you rely.
Should citations be footnotes or in-text citations?
We don't impose any rules for citations, and in fact we will edit the essays we publish if the citations need a bit of tidying up.
How strict is the age eligibility criteria?
Only students whose nineteenth birthday falls after 30 June 2021 will be eligible for a prize or a commendation.
May I submit more than one essay?
Yes, you may submit as many essays as you please in any or all categories.
Do I have to attend the award ceremony to win a prize?
Nobody is required to attend the prize ceremony. You can win a prize without travelling to Oxford. But if we invite you to Oxford it is because your essay was good enough - in the opinion of the First Round judges - to be at least a contender for First, Second or Third Prize. Normally the Second Round judges will agree that the short-listed essays are worth at least a commendation.