Oxford First-Generation students launch Alumni Community

The Oxford First-Generation group now have over 70 alumni members


Oxford First-Generation students have launched an Alumni Community, which aims to bring together former, first-generation students to inspire and enable current and prospective undergraduates.

The group already has over 70 members a week since the launch. Many have expressed interest online in mentoring current first-generation undergraduates, giving talks at the University, and offering work experience.

“First-gen” students are those who are “the first in their family to go to university”. The group is also for the student who “feels they do not have the same educational privileges as someone whose parents went to university in the traditional sense.”

A spokesperson for the group, Jack Nunn, told Cherwell: “Our alumni campaign is all about creating a sense of community and showing that first-gen students not only exist at Oxford, but succeed in all kinds of careers and fields.

“There is no typical ‘first-gen’ student and our alumni members who have signed up so far reflect this.

“Amongst the first-gen alumni, there are PhD students, teachers, lecturers, lawyers and scientists. Most importantly, they all share a common background and have overcome similar barriers.”

One of the first alumni sign-ups, Becky Shaw Simms, came up to Oxford in 1996 and read Geography at Mansfield College. Although she stayed in the local area after graduation, she has never been involved in any Oxford alumni groups before.

Simms heard about the Community over Twitter.

Speaking to Cherwell, she said: “When I was at Oxford there were Target Schools programs and all kinds of outreach, but of course the world is a very different place now – in 1995 when I was applying, there was no social media, very little internet usage, no smartphones etc, so the networks that today’s young people benefit from didn’t exist. If there was a First Gen group in 1995, I’m not sure how I’d have known about it!

“I was the first person in my family to finish school with qualifications of any sort, brought up by a single parent in local authority accommodation.

“However I was bright at school, knew I loved my subject, and was lucky enough to have a Head of Geography at school who was able to get beyond the assumption that Oxford was only for ‘posh kids’.

“More often than not, historically, the reason bright people from state schools, BME communities and disadvantaged communities haven’t been represented at Oxford is that they’ve not applied to Oxford in the first place – either because their school hasn’t encouraged them (or has actively discouraged them!) or their peers have put them off.

“Or (frankly) they’ve been put off by endless Oxbridge-bashing in the media that perpetuates the myth that Oxbridge is Brideshead Revisited, with a homogenous population of people who are white and middle class and educated at private school and if you’re not, you won’t ‘fit in’.

“Sadly the journalists at the Guardian et. al. don’t care to look at the statistics from Colleges like Mansfield where over 90% of undergrads last year were from state school backgrounds.”

Alongside the Alumni Community, Oxford First Generation Students will be putting on pizza nights, socials, and ‘informal formals’ for incoming freshers.

The Oxford SU Class Act campaign has also recently introduced a ‘Family’ scheme, which aims to group students from different years together who are from first generation, low income, or working class backgrounds.


  1. I was the first in my family to go to University. I also wwas fortunate enough to be accepted at Oxford.

    When I was there, there were many, many undergraduates in the same position as me. We came from state schools, grammar schools mainly, which offered a good , rigourous education . The privately educated kids were surprised, and usually quite intrigued and interested that people from a different background could be as clever , or cleverer than them.

    All gone.

  2. I was the first in my working class family to go to Oxford and the first from my school to go to Oxford. That was 39 years ago and it is depressing that social mobility has not progressed since then to give bright students from state schools and all backgrounds the confidence to apply to Oxford and expect to be selected on merit alone.

    It did seem then that those from state schools were better placed to adapt to the Oxford system of self-reliance in tutorials and study as they had had to master the entrance exams and interviews without the coaching enjoyed by seventh term applicants from independent schools who were accustomed to more spoon feeding. Education in state schools is now very different but let us hope that good students get the opportunities whatever their background

  3. As measured by HEFCE/UCAS, first generation student means a student without a parent/guardian possessing a higher education qualification. In other words, first in their IMMEDIATE family to go to university NOT first in their family’s known history to go to university. It is very difficult to work out the latter and, except for recent migrant families from areas of low HE participation, if long enough is spent looking, very probably any student will be able to identify at least one ancestor with a degree or equivalent.

    If you think about it, in a society with downward as well as upward social mobility there should ALWAYS be a lot of first generation university students in this sense. Family fortunes rise and fall – the fact a student’s parents went to university shouldn’t mean they will automatically follow suit.

    Research by HEFCE is consistent with this: it actually shows that there are roughly the same number of UK university students whose immediate family have HE qualifications as those that don’t:

    There is variation depending on A-level attainment and postcode deprivation. For example, in the case of students achieving AAA about 25% are first gen and 75% are not. So Oxford has fewer examples and other universities have more.

    It is interesting to compare this with the definition of the Oxford alumni group:
    “First-gen” students are those who are “the first in their family to go to university”. The group is also for the student who “feels they do not have the same educational privileges as someone whose parents went to university in the traditional sense.”

    Becky Simms elaborates on what this might mean in practice: her interview quote states that she was the first person in her family to finish school with qualifications OF ANY SORT, brought up by a single parent in local authority accommodation. In other words, more is involved here than a few families slipping into or out of higher education over two generations.

    While Becky Simms is only one example her personal history illustrates what Oxford sociologist John Goldthorpe terms absolute mobility: a tendency for more children from less affluent backgrounds to achieve better educational qualifications than their parents. As the tenor of the article suggests and also some of the preceding comments reinforce, despite this improvement the amount of intergenerational social mobility hasn’t increased commensurately. The reason for this, according to Goldthorpe, is the very significant investment parents make in the children: particularly middle class, well-educated parents who place huge emphasis on exam results and are very adept at guiding offspring through school and university admissions processes.

    So a group of alumni capable of providing inspiration and guidance is welcome. But of course all the pushy parents with degrees are still out their doing their stuff, trying their level best to make sure their kids climb up ladders and avoid slipping down snakes.


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