University’s reputation remains cut-proof

Oxford received 17,480 applications for undergraduate places this year, the “largest number of applications ever received”, a slight increase on last year when there were 17,216 applications. 

Meanwhile, University applications by UK students numbered 263,460 this December, a 1 per cent fall compared with this time last year, when there were 264,860 domestic applications.

This year’s UCAS deadline was on Wednesday and there is still a possibility that last minute applications will have boosted the final total.

The latest figures are in line with a trend since of Oxbridge applications continuing to rise despite a fall in overall UK applications despite the £9,000 fees introduced in 2012.

Although part of this continued increase is due to growing numbers of international students, the University emphasized its ongoing outreach work and its “contact with 78% of all schools offering post-16 education – virtually all schools with students capable of making a competitive application to Oxford”.

Specific attention was called to the Moritz-Heyman Scholarships which were introduced for the first time this year. Using a £300m donation received in 2012, the scholarships waive some or all tuition and living costs for lower-income Oxford students.

Cherwell asked two students about possible reasons for Oxford bucking the trend. A second year historian, who went to a North London academy school and was the first person there to go to Oxbridge, said that living expenses in Oxford were “the crux of the issue” and the University’s bursaries greatly helped her.  She believed they “made Oxford both more appealing” and contributed to the applications increase.

However, she highlighted that Oxford’s global reputation is why so many continue to apply, “The fact is, when education is more expensive, you are more likely to try to make the best of it. I was always going to apply to university, whether the fees were increased or not, as I was informed enough to understand them. Many who were put off were either uninformed or looking for an excuse to not bother.”

“I don’t think it’s radical to say that the stigma of 9k has been over-estimated.”

Nikita Hayward, a Moritz-Heyman scholar at Worcester, agreed, highlighting that, “In schools that have less history of sending students to top universities correct information isn’t passed on to students as clearly as it could be.”

Although she felt Oxford applicants were motivated regardless, she said realising Oxford’s financial support “was definitely another factor which made me prefer Oxford to my other UCAS choices”.

With several universities charging the full £9,000, she said Oxford offered “the most for their money in terms of access to academic resources, study grants, travel grants, and paid internship opportunities”.

Alfie Allen, a bursary recipient and mathematician at St Anne’s, agreed that applicants were now more ambitious. “With repaying the loan looming over the rest of your life, more people are going to want to feel like their degree will guarantee them something.”

He added, “I’d be surprised if Oxford’s financial support didn’t at some point factor into the thinking of an average applicant who would receive it, but I’m not convinced that it would be the reason they’d choose here. If we’re talking about the average Oxford applicant, I’d be surprised if it factored in.”

Their spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills stated, “Students will rightly want to make sure that they are making the best choices and consider carefully the information available to them. The Government has been very clear about the importance of widening participation and improving fair access in higher education.”