A new report from HESA shows Oxford to be among top 10 major UK Universities with least amount of 2017 entrants from low participation backgrounds, at 4.1%.
Mature students with no previous higher education background constituted only 0.43% of 2017 entrants.
Oxford also continues to take on the smallest percentage of state school entrants, at 58.2%. With only 100 out of 2,560 entrants coming from low participation neighbour- hoods, Oxford ranked 7th in this capacity among major UK Universities.
This was an increase of 10 students and 0.6% percentage points from 2016 entrants, when 90 out of 2,660 students came from low participation backgrounds.
UK universities’ average state school percentage was 76.8%. In 2016, Cambridge and Oxford had the top two lowest percentages of low participation background.
Oxford’s 1,430 state school entrants in 2017 composed 58.2% of total entrants, compared with 1,475 students and 57% in 2016. In both years, Oxford and Cambridge ranked first and second respectively on their state school selectivity.
Oxford’s 25 mature undergraduate entrants with no prior higher education background in 2017 contrasted with the complete absence of any entrants fitting that category in 2016.
The study defined “low participation” areas by ranking data from the 2001 Census Area Statistics wards in conjunction with data from UCAS and other sources on youth higher education participation. “Major University” was defined as a school that had more than 1,000 full time entrants.
Additionally, HESA did not collect data from Scottish institutes of higher education for low participation neighbourhoods, but did for state school data.
This report highlights ongoing concerns over Oxford’s image of exclusivity. Earlier this term, Lord Andrew Adonis called for the creation of a new undergraduate college to improve “access with excellence.”
A recent Cherwell article also demonstrated the unequal financial burdens shared by different colleges regarding their outreach efforts.
An Office for Students (OfS) spokesperson commented: “Across the higher education sector, young people from the most advantaged neighbourhoods are more than twice as likely to go to university as those from the least advantaged areas, and over six times as likely to get into the most selective universities.
“Talent can be found in every part of the country, but access to higher education is currently significantly limited by background.
“Our ambition is that future generations should have equal opportunities to access and succeed in higher education, and to achieve successful and rewarding careers – whatever their background.”
A spokesperson for Oxford University told Cherwell: “Oxford has taken a concerted, strategic approach to reaching a more representative selection of students from across the UK. Our proportion of state school students has been steadily rising as a result, and in 2017-18 we attracted more students from under-served areas and low traditions of pursuing higher education, than ever before.
“However, while we are performing well against current targets and these changes are encouraging, we are keen to build on this progress and increase the pace of change and make Oxford itself more diverse.
“1) Our commitment to being more reflective of wider-society and building a University environment where everyone feels welcome, valued and respected, will be reflected in our future access targets and continued investment in supporting ambitious under-represented students via our recently expanded UNIQ summer school, Target Oxbridge partnership and general outreach initiatives in communities where Oxford is perhaps not the first choice University.
“2) With time and consistent commitment to bespoke collaboration with schools and prospective students, we hope to break down perceived barriers to entry, as we continue to encourage more talented applicants of all backgrounds that Oxford can be, and is for them.”
In a press recent press release, Dr Luke Heselwood, Reform Senior Researcher and author of the report ‘Gaining Access: Increasing the participation of disadvantaged students at elite universities’, said: “If Ministers want to do better, they should do three things: find a better measure for assessing disadvantage, evaluate universities’ spending on widening participation and campaign to encourage applications from disadvantaged students.”
The think tank Reform said: “Research undertaken by Reform in 2018 found considerable discomfort from universities with the current measure used to assess disadvantage, which uses POLAR3 data.
“The think tank is reiterating its call for a new measure for assessing universities progress in improving access, which takes into acount key indicators not currently considered, such as Free School Meal status.
“Reform is again calling for universities to publish detailed breakdowns of their widening participation spending to the Office for Stdents, to help understand which programmes are effective and to improve value for money.
“The think tank has previously called for a national campaign similar to Better Make Room in the USA, which targets disadvantaged pupils via text and Snap Chat to encourage applications from those with high enough grades.”