Oxford grad launches new access initiative

The new organisation aims to connect disadvantaged students with Oxbridge mentors

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An Oxford graduate has set up a non-profit startup aimed at tackling the “structural inequalities” associated with the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge.

Founded by recent graduate Joe Seddon, Access Oxbridge will connect disadvantaged students seeking to apply to Oxbridge with current or former students at the two universities. The organisation states that it will utilise online communication technology to give disadvantaged students the “resources and soft skills” needed to compete with their more affluent peers.

As part of the scheme, Oxbridge ‘mentors’ will deliver live video tutorials offering personal statement advice, admissions test guidance, and mock interviews.

Seddon, founder and CEO, studied PPE at Mansfield College, the college with the highest percentage of state school students across both Oxford and Cambridge.

Recently, Oxford’s admission statistics have attracted criticism nationwide. Labour MP David Lammy has repeatedly called on Oxford and Cambridge to improve their class and ethnic diversity, accusing Oxford of ‘social apartheid’ last year.

As Cherwell reported earlier this year, more students were admitted to Oxford in 2017 from the top twelve independent schools than from all state comprehensives.

Explaining why he believes such inequalities to be significant, Seddon told Cherwell: “Oxbridge regularly admits twice as many students from Eton as it does students eligible for free school meals.

“Such glaring inequalities increasingly matter in a world in which the financial benefits of education are continuously rising, with Oxbridge graduates expected to earn a £400,000 lifetime premium compared to graduates from other British universities.”

Seddon believes that Access Oxbridge offers something that access programmes organised by colleges and the universities do not.

He said: “There’s been a lot of good access work done by students from both universities, but much of it so far has concentrated on transforming Oxbridge’s image and dispelling pernicious myths.

“This doesn’t go far enough in solving the resource and skills gap between disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers”.

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Reflecting on his personal experience of the Oxford admissions process, Seddon hopes that his new organisation will give more disadvantaged students the knowledge and ability to complete a successful application.

“As a ‘disadvantaged student’ myself who attended the UNIQ summer school in 2014, I remember the distinct lack of confidence I had about my chances of gaining a place at Oxford.

“I did not know anyone who could help me prepare for a university admissions test, and I was wholly reliant on an overburdened History teacher at my state sixth form to introduce me to the format of an Oxford interview.”

Access Oxbridge are now campaigning to convince current and former Oxbridge students to commit to mentor a disadvantaged student for an hour each week.

Within 24 hours of launching, over 100 Oxbridge students had signed up to be mentors. This number has grown since to over 200, and so far over 20 disadvantaged students have been connected to Oxbridge mentors.

Access Oxbridge hopes to connect 200 students to mentors by the end of October.

The scheme has received a positive reception among students from both universities targeted. Cambridge SU President, Evie Aspinall, said: “This sounds like a really great project.”

Laura Worman, a former Geography student who graduated from Oxford this year, is one of those who have signed up to be a mentor. She said: “This is such an incredible initiative. It’s great to finally be given the chance to connect directly with the disadvantaged students which Oxbridge has been previously failing to admit.

“As someone who went to a state comprehensive with little Oxbridge success, I’m really keen to break the stigma that Oxbridge isn’t for everyone and use my own experience to help disadvantage students realise their full potential.”