The release of the 2015 admissions statistics has led to the usual charges against Oxford and how it is letting down those from disadvantaged backgrounds by continuing to accept a large proportion of privately educated students. While this is true, and Oxford still suffers from this systemic problem, it is only half of the story.
Perhaps the most significant aspect to these statistics is that, on a year-by-year basis, there doesn’t seem to be much change. Around 62.5 per cent of applicants were from state schools, while 37.5 per cent came from independent schools. Of these, 55 per cent of acceptances went to state school students, compared with 44 per cent from independent schools. Around 63.8 per cent of those applying were UK domiciled, compared with 24.4 per cent from abroad; 80.8 per cent of offers went to UK domiciled applicants.
All of these statistics are useful in their own ways, in the sense that they show – despite the University’s best efforts to improve its access scheme – things are beginning to look pretty constant. However, perhaps the most useful thing that these statistics tell us is what access should focus on next.
It’s clear that the disparity between independent schools applicants and the number of acceptances they receive compared with state school applicants is here for the long haul. The 2015 statistics are roughly comparable with those from 2007, when around 52 per cent of acceptances were from state schools.
The development of the access scheme in the coming months and years will hopefully address the disparity between applications and acceptances from state schools and those from independent schools. As recognised by the University on its report, ‘state school’ as an indicator of social disadvantage is ineffective; a more sophisticated model is needed in order to truly gauge what Oxford and other Russell Group universities are doing to improve diversity within the student body.
Yet, I would contend that even using Government indicators like Free School Meals and Pupil Premium poses the risk of ignoring students from equally deprived backgrounds as those eligible for such schemes. To venture into anecdote, I was an applicant from a single-parent family whose mother was working for around about £16,000 per year at the time of my application, and who was in receipt of Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit. This immediately disqualified me from receiving FSM or Pupil Premium. I’m sure there are many others from relatively deprived backgrounds who, because of quirks like this, are not visible on the University’s radar when it comes to measuring the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds being accepted. That is why I believe that an access programme that takes other factors into account, rather than simply those used by the Government, would be more effective in improving the socioeconomic diversity of students at Oxford.
Within the UK, there is a clear North-South divide in applications and acceptances to Oxford. Again, however, this is already on many access workers’ radars, and my own college – Pembroke, where I’m the JCR Access Rep – performs a lot of work in our partner region of the North West (Cheshire and Greater Manchester) to not only encourage applications to Oxford but to develop Sixth Formers’ critical faculties so that they even consider higher education at all.
There is still work to be done on this, including a more co-ordinated response to access work in different parts of the country between colleges. OUSU is taking its first steps in building a database of committed access workers, noting the regions from which they derive, so that each college has a pool of people from their ‘catchment areas’ who can then go to schools and represent the university in those regions. The most effective way in getting the attention of an assembly hall of Sixth Formers is to have someone who you can relate to – from the same area, with the same accent – giving a talk, and so these are definitely steps in the right direction.
The highlight of the 2015 statistics in my view is the disparity between UK domiciled students and international students applying and accepted into Oxford. I suppose this is unsurprising considering that, from my experience of friends who have come from abroad, only a select few schools are given the chance to apply to Oxbridge. Equally interesting with the EU referendum on the horizon is that the number of applications from within the European Union seems to be increasing at a slower rate than applications from outside the EU. Despite this, both figures are dwarfed by the number of UK domiciled students accepted into Oxford, and shows a need – in my view – for programmes such as the Reach Scholarships provided by OUSU to be pushed even further and to a wider range of schools in other countries.
The statistics present relatively little that’s new, but affirm the need for Oxford to continue its commitment to access and perhaps call for new approaches towards access, particularly involving international applications and ways for colleges to keep in touch with their partner regions. While the statistics aren’t a cause for celebration, they do show that – with a bit of effort – the University through its many ccess programmes could improve further the diversity of the student body here and lead the way amongst other top higher education institutions.