The Office for Fair Access has called upon universities to extend their outreach activities to target potential students as young as seven.

New guidelines laid out in the OFFA January 17th press release state, “all English universities and colleges that want to charge tuition fees of more than the basic fee  [should] consider how they will work to raise aspirations and academic attainment among children from as young as seven.”

For the 2014-15 academic year, such universities will be expected to include in their access agreements plans to target children as early as Key Stage 2 as part of a long term access programme.

In the press release, Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education said: “Many universities already run excellent outreach programmes. However, these tend to focus on young people aged 14-19, and, while work with teenagers is very useful and should continue, we are keen to see more long-term schemes that start at a younger age and persist through the school career. It’s crucial that outreach encompasses those who are not yet on the pathway to higher education as well as those who are already considering it.”

In response to the OFFA guidelines, a spokesperson for the University of Oxford told Cherwell, “The emphasis on outreach programmes as outlined in the latest OFFA guidance underscores the importance of engaging with students early on as they make decisions about their educational future – an area where Oxford University has been active for a number of years.

“As part of its extensive outreach and access work Oxford University already works to raise aspirations with students aged 16 and younger in local schools through our widening participation programmes, and has for a number of years worked in collaboration with other local universities.

“The University also welcomes OFFA’s emphasis on the importance of summer schools – an area of longstanding involvement for Oxford that is having an impact: state school students who attend Oxford’s UNIQ Summer Schools and apply to the university enjoy a success rate of around 40% – more than double the average success rate for all applicants.”

Oxford University’s agreement with OFFA for the 2013-14 academic year expresses the University’s aims to be “to attract applications from all individuals with the potential to study at the University; to inform them fully; to admit the very best; to educate them in an intensive, world-class teaching system, and to support them while at Oxford”.

Other Oxford access schemes include ambassador programmes, student mentoring and alumni visits. The Oxford Young Ambassador Programme employs current Oxford students to mentor secondary school students in the Oxfordshire area from Years 9 to 11, whilst the Trading Places initiative sees Oxford alumni visiting state schools to address pre-GCSE students from underrepresented groups.

Access schemes targeted at individual regions are also run by individual colleges. In accordance with the latest OFFA guidelines, Oxford colleges such as Lady Margaret Hall and Wadham are believed to have allowed groups of primary school children to tour their premises.

Oxford students have responded varyingly to the new OFFA guidelines, particularly those concerning outreach to children as young as seven. Nick Fanthorpe, a second year student at Trinity College, expressed concern that potential outreach programmes to Key Stage 2 students “could foster quite a dangerous atmosphere if a child at the age of seven gets obsessed with going to Oxford”.

Olivia Ouwehand, a third year Trinity student, meanwhile approved of the guideline’s aims, though voicing doubt about the efficacy of potential access schemes. “It would, admittedly, be hard, as kids of that age, even from a motivated academic background, generally don’t give a lot of thought to their futures, but I’d totally endorse any well thought out access schemes aimed at younger ages.”