Issues concerning social mobility were discussed this week at the Union on a panel including OUSU President Martha Mackenzie, Access Project Director Alex Kelly, two directors of Pinsent Masons, a law firm sponsoring the event, and chaired by Union Treasurer James Freeland.
The forum marks the first in a series of new events at The Union aiming to include a greater focus on audience participation. A significant part of the discussion involved audience members addressing questions and concerns directly to members of the panel, and the main discussion was followed up by an opportunity to discuss the issues raised face-to-face with members of the panel as well as other audience members.
Discussion ranged from debating why certain schools dominate entry to leading universities, whether Oxford should positively discriminate based on socioeconomic background, to each of the panel trying to address areas in education they felt required greater focus. Despite agreements about the need to improve social mobility across the board in education the panel clashed on other issues, such as whether the focus should be mainly on improving aspirations or grades, and if the fee issue will have a large impact upon social mobility in the next generation of students or not.
Students were able to put their own experiences to the panel, which highlighted some of the issues directly relating to Oxford. Adam Knight, a 1st year student reading Chinese at Hertford, as the only successful applicant to Oxford from his state school this year, pointed out that, “There were people at my school who got good enough grades, but were put off by a stigma of applying to Oxbridge, which is a shame because they would have had so much to add to the university.”
Regarding the new fees system, despite overall university applications on this time last year being significantly lower, OUSU President Martha Mackenzie said, “The drop in applicants for Oxford has not been statistically significant, possibly as for a lot of students, Oxford seemed unreachable anyway.” To improve the situation, she suggested that, “Targeted programs are the way forward, such as mock tutorials and mock interviews.” and especially, “…communicating that Oxford has one of the best student finance packages available.”
Sebastian Leape, Access Officer at The Union and organiser of the event, said of the forum, “I think this is a very exciting new format for discussions at the union to take as it allows the audience to participate and for speakers to be critiqued – No one can get away with bullshitting.”
John Lee, Treasurer-elect, agreed and said that the content of the discussion was also key, claiming that the Union is, “…getting more progressive and becoming less of a private social club, and emphasising much more the ballot system [that allows members to ballot to attend] President’s Drinks and speakers’ events.”