Oxford leads UK universities in access initiative

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Research carried out by Future First found that 40% of 16 to 19 year olds who attended UK state schools, and 45% of those on Free School Meals, didn’t know anyone in a career they would like to work in.

The Back to School campaign, run by educational charity Future First in partnership with The Independent’s ‘i’ newspaper, aims to solve this problem by allowing former students to reconnect with their former schools and act as much-needed role models, supporting the aspirations of young people by offering help and advice.

Students from universities up and down the country were asked to sign up for the scheme during this year’s Back to School week, which ran from the 12 – 19October, but between OUSU’s stall at the fresher’s fair, and the postcard sent to staff and parents by the Widening Participation team, Oxford had by far the highest number of sign-ups, a total of 124.

As Rachel Pickering, Vice-President for Access and Academic Affairs at OUSU, points out, “This is 88 more than signed up from Oxford in 2012 and accounts for nearly 5% of all national sign ups from 12-19th October! We’ve signed up three times as many people to this excellent scheme than any other student union; an amazing feat which really proves just how engaged our students, staff and alumni are in outreach and access work.”

Schools in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and Swindon also benefitted from the University’s enthusiasm for the scheme through a donation of 1000 books by Oxford Unversity Press, again facilitated by Widening Participation.

Tara Prayag, the University’s Head of Widening Participation, said: ‘Our staff make countless visits to schools throughout the year to encourage students to think about higher education, but there is no substitute for schoolchildren being able to hear directly from students who were in their position only a few years ago.’

Flora Sheldon, publicity co-ordinator for the Oxford hub and co-ordinator of Music for the ‘Schools plus’ tutoring programme, was also delighted by the scale of Oxford’s participation in the scheme, saying “It’s great to see so many students, staff and alumni have signed up to Back to School week. There’s often such a strong view that Oxford is stuck in its own exclusive and elitist bubble, but the success of this initiative shows that Oxford is full of motivated people who want to share their experience and knowledge with others.

“There are many programmes running in Oxford, Schools Plus being one of them, which are trying to break down these stereotypes and reach school children to raise aspirations and expectations. I congratulate those involved with Back to School week and hope that people continue to volunteer their time and effort to this worthwhile project.”

Matthew Gompels, Keble Academic Affairs and Access officer, and President of student-run outreach programme ‘Keble at Large’, commented “It’s great to see Back to School Week getting such comprehensive endorsement from Oxford students, especially as it is only one of a number of schemes designed to put students at the heart of Outreach work.

“With all the bad press that seems to stick to the University and it’s students, events like this along with school visits, tours and UCAS advice, are a good reminder that Oxford students are passionate about Outreach and Access.”

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