Oxford University Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson was grilled over the University’s access schemes and policies at a student Q&A panel on Tuesday, with concerns being raised over her shifting of responsibility towards the colleges and away from the central administration.
During the student-organised “access and diversity brainstorming event” held at the Oxford Martin School, Richardson described access as “one of the biggest challenges the University faces”.
Richardson also noted that since colleges independently select the students admitted, they are responsible for the resources they provide for their students.
However, some students expressed disappointment with the Vice-Chancellor’s comments.
Mansfield JCR President Daria Lysyakova noted that Richardson’s view on issues of access was one that “[she does] not share”.
Lysyakova said in a statement that “as the exemplary college for access, [Mansfield] needs to make [their] voice heard louder”.
Currently, Mansfield admits the highest percentage of state-school students out of all of the University’s colleges and PPHs.
Lysyakova told Cherwell: “Whilst I understand that the Vice Chancellor does not have the authority to tell colleges how to run their business, as each college is a charity independent from the University, what the Vice-Chancellor does have, in light of her position, is the necessary status and influences to effectively encourage colleges to priorities access and allocate their resources in ways which would best aid students in need.
“I strongly disagree with the opinion of the Vice-Chancellor that the onus of continuing access should be entirely on the Colleges.
“I believe that such a mindset would eventually bring colleges who are currently leading access, such as Mansfield, to reconsider their priorities.
“The University is not giving Colleges a substantial incentive to improve access – instead the Vice Chancellor seems to believe that this would come about through the good faith of Colleges alone.
“I hope that she would reconsider this position and work to encourage wider diversity across Oxford.
“I would further like to note that access has always been a priority at Mansfield and will continue to be at the heart of our ethos.”
In a post on the Mansfield’s JCR noticeboard, Lysyakova stated her intention to write a letter on behalf of the JCR and to lobby other JCR presidents to do the same.
Third-year Mansfield student Sara Harb, who attended the meeting, said that she felt a “disconnect” between the student-led access schemes and those of the University, which “the VC has to take responsibility for”.
She told Cherwell: “It isn’t good enough for her to effectively accept that student experience at Oxford is simply a matter of a college lottery.
“She wants us to address the wider societal inequalities, while there are clearly some massive inequalities between colleges, which is something she is responsible for and can feasibly address.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Richardson also agreed with suggestions that the University should start to pressure the government to improve access provision earlier in the education system, claiming that early education is “central to Oxbridge access”.
Richardson stated her continued support for the current main undergraduate access programme, UNIQ, which brings 850 state school students to Oxford every summer. The capacity of UNIQ is expected to increase by 500 places in the coming years.
At the meeting, Richardson reportedly told the audience that the poorest Oxford colleges continue to provide more educational funding than the vast majority of UK universities.
Event organiser Ben Fernando told Cherwell that he believed the event went “very well” and was pleased with the variety of audience members.
He added: “The point was to come to constructive solutions, so firstly I hope the students have a bit of a better idea of what’s being done on the University side, and vice versa.
“In terms of making concrete progress, obviously we’ll have to see what’s acted upon, but as I understand it some of the disability campaigners and First-Gen reps have already scheduled further discussions with the University leadership as a result of the meeting, so that’s a good start.
“I think this was a pretty effective way to discuss the issues, and I hope we’ll be able to do similar things again in the future.”
The University was contacted for comment.