Andrew Bell talks to us about the Undergraduate access programme
Andrew Bell (Opportunity Oxford Coordinator and Senior Tutor at University College) speaks to us about the Undergraduate access programme Opportunity Oxford, after 231 Opportunity Oxford offers were made this year — an
increase of 38.3% on last year.
What is Opportunity Oxford and what is its purpose?
Opportunity Oxford is a major initiative to increase the number of high-achieving students admitted to undergraduate degrees at Oxford from backgrounds identified as priorities for widening access. Under the programme, colleges commit to looking
very closely at applications from students from defined under-represented backgrounds, and set themselves targets for their admission. Admitted students participate in an intensive academic bridging programme in the summer before beginning their
degree. It has both online and residential components, and it gives students a structured and supportive start to their Oxford careers.
Who is eligible for Opportunity Oxford and how are offers awarded?
Many universities use standard data sets to understand the relative socio-economic and educational advantage of their applicants. Students are eligible for Opportunity Oxford if, according to these data, they live in an area of defined disadvantage,
or with low rates of progression to higher education. All students who are care experienced, or who are entitled to free school meals, are also eligible.
Each year, quite a lot of students from these backgrounds are admitted in the regular way. Under Opportunity Oxford, admitting tutors look particularly carefully at remaining eligible students whom they believe would benefit from the additional
academic support the programme gives. Opportunity Oxford offers are made within the gathered field of admissions, and they carry the standard academic conditions for the student’s course.
Why was there a need to develop Opportunity Oxford?
There’s a long tradition of promoting fair access at Oxford. There have been important initiatives run by the University, and many effective programmes delivered by colleges and departments. In the run up to the submission of our latest
Access and Participation Plan (APP) to the Office for Students in 2019, though, we decided to set ourselves more ambitious targets for widening access, and put in place concrete plans to deliver them. Opportunity Oxford is a key component of
Many admitting tutors had long been worried about disparities in the educational opportunities afforded to applicants of similar ability from different backgrounds. Put simply, they knew that the playing field wasn’t always level. Opportunity
Oxford represents one step towards levelling it.
How has Opportunity Oxford expanded over time? How has the pandemic affected the growth or running of the programme?
Over its three-year roll-out, all undergraduate colleges and almost all subjects have joined Opportunity Oxford. The programme has exceeded its admissions targets, and now some 500 Opportunity Oxford offers have been made. We’ve got a team
of dedicated academics who lead on the design and delivery of the bridging programme, and I’ve got a lot of confidence and pride in what the programme does for its students.
Our first residential was also the first in-person event run by the University after lockdown one. Nervous? I should say so, but it was extremely worthwhile. The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the education of the least advantaged
really underlines just how important interventions like Opportunity Oxford can be.
What impact has Opportunity Oxford had on students that participated in the bridging programme?
I’m going to quote one of our students here: "Many of the people who I met on Opportunity Oxford are still some of my closest friends at Oxford! The programme was so useful for understanding what is expected of me on my course, how to engage in a
tutorial, how to approach essay writing, how to use the library system and for getting to know the city. The programme was incredibly fun, and I am so glad I got this opportunity." Honestly, that’s pretty representative feedback! Those who have taught
on the programme, me included, have found it rewarding and often quite humbling.
What are the plans for Opportunity Oxford in the future, especially with the launch of Foundation Oxford next year?
We’re currently undergoing an external evaluation, and we’re looking forward to its findings. Looking ahead, we expect to admit 200 students per year under the programme. Opportunity Oxford will run alongside Foundation Oxford,
and the same team will support both. They’re complimentary, in that they’re both concerned to drive fair access, they’re both key components of the University’s APP, but they’re focussed on different cohorts of students for whom different levels
of support are appropriate.
How can University staff support Opportunity Oxford and who can they contact with any questions?
I’d really appreciate help in promoting awareness of Opportunity Oxford both within the University, where it can prompt important conversations about admissions practice and academic support, and outside the University, where it’s a powerful signal
of Oxford’s commitment to making transformative opportunities available to talented students. Drop us a line on firstname.lastname@example.org