The University of Oxford is to launch programmes to address its historically low numbers of students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds, including a foundation year for talented school-leavers who lack the required grades. Louise Richardson, the university’s vice-chancellor, said the programmes were “a hugely exciting initiative” to improve access to the university, and combined with
The University of Oxford is to launch programmes to address its historically low numbers of students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds, including a foundation year for talented school-leavers who lack the required grades.
Louise Richardson, the university’s vice-chancellor, said the programmes were “a hugely exciting initiative” to improve access to the university, and combined with existing schemes would mean one in four British undergraduates at Oxford coming from deprived or disadvantaged backgrounds.
“The whole university and just about everyone in it has come in behind this and that doesn’t often happen here. That speaks to how strongly we all feel about this,” Richardson said.
The two new programmes are targeted at students who would otherwise be academically qualified to enter Oxford but have either been overlooked in favour of more accomplished candidates or have been unable to reach the entry requirements due to their family circumstances or background.
Richardson said the impetus behind the schemes was a recognition that Oxford was not making sufficient progress in widening access.
“If you look at our data it’s very clear that the numbers are low and the pace is slow. I think we felt a certain impatience,” Richardson said.
“There’s a huge commitment across the university to do more on this and there’s a sense that the pace at which we were realising this ambition was too slow.”
David Lammy, the MP who has been a prominent critic of Oxbridge admissions for disadvantaged and minority ethnic students, said the new foundation year was “a major step forward” for Oxford as well as a recognition that it and Cambridge needed to make radical changes.
“These changes continue to allow Oxford’s 38 autonomous colleges enormous discretion over how seriously to take access. For true systemic change to be achieved, admissions should be centralised and contextual data should be used at every stage in the admissions process,” he said.
“There needs to be recognition that all of the academic evidence confirms that a student with three A grades from a state school and a council estate has achieved more on merit than their counterpart with the same grades from a posh public school.”
One of the schemes, Foundation Oxford, will offer students with “high academic potential” a place on a one-year, pre-degree course, based on a programme already in use at one Oxford college, Lady Margaret Hall (LMH). The students will receive tuition and coaching, with the intention that they go on to begin an undergraduate degree the following year.
Alan Rusbridger, the former Guardian editor and principal of LMH who introduced its foundation year scheme, said: “Foundation years are a very powerful tool in allowing extraordinarily talented and committed young people to have an Oxford education. A commitment to social mobility doesn’t have to be in tension with excellence: quite the opposite.”
The foundation scheme will make contextual offers – based on their circumstances – to 50 students a year from 2021, at a cost to the university of about £20,000 a student. The university said eligible candidates could include refugees and children in care or those with care responsibilities.
Cambridge University has said it plans to launch a similar scheme in 2021.
The other new programme, Opportunity Oxford, is designed to aid successful applications from students from under-represented backgrounds who meet the academic standards but have been “near-misses” in winning places, according to Richardson.
From 2020, the scheme will offer about 200 students a year additional help, including structured study at home and two weeks of residential study at Oxford, before the start of their degree course.
“It’s clear that a couple of hundred students from deprived backgrounds who meet or exceed our standard entry requirements do apply but they don’t get in. So those are the students we’re are going to focus on,” Richardson said.
“Tutors are looking at a range of students who are at the margins, they have to pick some of them to come. And I think they will be more inclined to pick one of these kids thinking that they will have the added advantage of the opportunity programme.
“The students will have met the academic requirement, there’s no lowering of standards, but this is a way of giving somebody an edge.”
Richardson said that the programmes would reshape Oxford, resulting in a broader range of students and backgrounds.
“We may be disappointing slightly different people under this initiative but those we will be disappointing will not have higher grades than those we let in,” she said.