Assessing our progress on Access

Pro-VC Martin Williams outside

I was delighted earlier this month that applications opened for the Astrophoria Foundation Year, one of Oxford’s undergraduate flagship access programmes.  This fully-funded one-year course will play an important role in providing a route in to Oxford for talented students who have faced significant disruption to their education – allowing them to developing their academic skills, self-belief and confidence here at the University.

It has been a huge amount of work getting to this stage; and I would like to thank colleagues in divisions, departments and colleges for enabling us to reach this important milestone. 

Ongoing undergraduate access progress

The launch of the foundation year coincided with the publication of the annual undergraduate Admissions Statistical Report, which showed continued progress on our aims to increase intakes from disadvantaged (ACORN) and under-represented (POLAR) areas.  The statistics also revealed a consolidation of our progress admitting larger numbers of students from state schools, and ethnic minorities.

Of course, these high-level headlines hide a lot of detail, and there remain areas where more rapid progress is needed.

Nevertheless, the broadly positive picture is testament to the ongoing commitment of academics and support staff across the University, not least our access and outreach coordinators who work tirelessly to change perceptions of Oxford across the country each day.

On-course support

While there is still work to do attracting more undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds to Oxford, we are increasingly shifting our attention to ensuring these students are given every opportunity to succeed while they are at Oxford.  The Oxford Transition Support website is a helpful collation of existing projects in this area, and work is ongoing to build this into something more systematic and far-reaching.  

Extending graduate access

While much of the focus on Oxford’s access activities is directed towards undergraduates, it is important to highlight that we have made real strides forward diversifying our graduate student body too.

The Graduate Access Working Group led by Professor David Gavaghan has already instigated the UNIQ+ graduate research internships scheme for disadvantaged candidates, and we look forward to welcoming another 130 students to Oxford this summer; while the Black Academic Futures programme is expected to provide scholarships for more than 30 Black British graduate students in the next academic year.  

Future graduate access priorities

We are now planning to widen the Academic Futures scheme to refugees and care leavers. Our recent announcement of scholarships for Ukrainian refugees marks a first step in our move towards greater support for refugee scholars in the future.  

We also have a promising pilot involving several departments across three divisions, looking at changes to our graduate admissions process to make it fairer and less prone to potential bias.

Of course, we are all aware that increasing graduate access requires scholarship funding. Through the current GEMS scheme the University has set aside £45M of its endowment as a matching fund to create new graduate scholarships. In addition, new funds for graduate support are one of the University’s key fundraising priorities.

There is a growing realisation at Oxford that the University is only strengthened by a diverse student body. The progress I have outlined today highlights the commitment to our access agenda across the University and colleges; I am incredibly grateful to everyone who continues to make Oxford a welcoming and inclusive place for our students, from all backgrounds.