Oxford University has come a long way in their admissions process to ensure that today they accept applicants on academic merit alone.
Whilst we as a student body should take pride in the admissions process, it is clear that there is still a long way to go. Yes, Oxford only accepts the brightest. But do the brightest apply to Oxford? I can’t answer definitively but I would argue no.
Investment in outreach and access has dramatically increased in recent years, with the University providing the most generous financial support package to those from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds of any university in the country. The recently published Outreach Database Report calculates that across last academic year 5,870 hours and 18 minutes were spent on outreach activity, amounting to delivery of 22 hours and 30 minutes of activity every working day of the year! This is an incredible number. Compared to other higher education institutions it is clear that we — colleges, the central Univer- sity, departments and students — put more time and resource into our outreach than just about any other university in the coun- try. We should celebrate this success.
However, it is clear that a lot more still needs to be done. It’s true the greatest limiting factor to changing Oxford’s mix of undergraduate students is attainment in schools. However, this fact should not stop us from investing in outreach and being part of the national movement fighting to ensure that educational success is not limited by socio-economic background. We need to broaden our view of outreach work to ensure that the brightest do apply. We can do this by evaluating the current activities we invest in to meet our outreach targets, ensuring that every penny we invest is effective and that our access activities are robust, measurable and targeted. We need to engage prospective students through targeted programmes, whether students are mature learners, BME, student parents or disabled. Only by engaging through targeted programmes can we ensure the message, that academic merit alone determines an Oxford place, is heard and that financial situation is not a barrier to studying here.
In October, OUSU signed up as a partner with Future First to encourage students to #gobackgiveback in their old schools. What’s clear from the week, in which we signed up more students, staff and alumni than any other SU partner, is that we are engaged and committed to ensuring Oxford is an accessible University to which the brightest, irrespective of any other factors, apply. We are committed to meeting our access targets (http://goo.gl/XJ2miJ) and step by step I think we’ll get there.