Oxford University’s Admissions Office have used a murder mystery event to try and increase applications from state sector pupils.
During the Easter vacation University authorities invited local schoolchildren to take part in the event, based at Pembroke College. 50 students, aged between 14 and 15, were greeted at the beginning of their three-day visit by a body on the front quad, followed by the revelation of the Morse-like murder mystery scenario.
Students were faced with a number of conundrums including a letter written in Syriac, which they were able to decode after a master class given by Gareth Hughes of the Oriental Institute. Hughes praised the intentions of the programme: “The best way to encourage the brightest to Oxford is to stimulate and challenge. The Access Programme is incredibly important – especially considering Oxford’s position and status as a fairly elite institution. The murder mystery event is therefore an excellent way of engaging bright and enquiring minds in a variety of different ways.”
Sinead Gallagher, the University’s Access Co-ordinator, organised the event. She noted, “Summer schools often attract more girls than boys, so we wanted to give the residential a theme that would be appealing to boys in particular. ‘Murder in the Cloisters’ should be great fun for all taking part, and the students will learn a lot about what going to University means: study your sources carefully, learn to gather facts and question them, and draw your conclusion based on firm evidence.”
Ché Ramsden, an assistant on the programme and first year English student at Wadham, spoke of the myths which still surround the University. “Some children I spoke to were under the impression that you have to incredibly rich to apply to Oxford – one even thought that fees were in excess of £20,000 a year. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The most important part of the Access Programme is destructing the false impressions people have of the University and its students – we’ve got to show young people that we are, on the whole, fairly normal people from normal backgrounds.”
One of the students taking part in the programme, Michael Dare of New Brompton College in Kent, spoke of his impressions of the University. “Before I came here I just thought everyone would be really posh and stuck up. Now I’m here I can see that the students are normal and pretty down to earth. I could really see myself coming here when I’m older.”