In a press release last Wednesday, May 4th, the university announced the creation of the Astrophoria Foundation Year. This one-year course of study will serve as an introduction to Oxford study and life for state-school students with high academic potential who have had their education severely disrupted. 

Funded by a significant anonymous gift from a long-time donor to the university, this program will be entirely free to participants, giving scholarships for study and accommodation fees as well as supplementary bursaries. 

To be considered for admission, students will need to obtain As and Bs across their A-levels, with precise offers depending on their desired course, and demonstrate socio-economic, school, and personal need. As well, they will need to submit a UCAS application and an additional Foundation-Year specific questionnaire. 

Fifty students will be accepted to this program, spread across ten colleges. St Hugh’s, Keble, Jesus, Lady Margaret Hall, Exeter, Mansfield, Somerville, St Anne’s, Trinity, and Wadham will welcome students on one of four tracks: Humanities (Classics, History, English, and Theology); Chemistry, Engineering and Materials Science; Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) or Law. The teaching program will also include tailored academic and welfare support. 

Participating colleges also have specific learning development and welfare programs in place to assist the new students. After completing the year and meeting a certain standard of academic achievement the students will receive a Certificate in Higher Education (CertHE). They can then choose to continue on with an undergraduate degree at Oxford or apply to another university.

The Astrophoria program comes after the success of Lady Margaret Hall’s pilot Foundation Year program, which has been running since 2016. Founded to help increase access to Oxford for students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds, LMH’s Foundation Year has allowed bright individuals to succeed in university studies despite significant disadvantages in their secondary school education. According to LMH, the first two cohorts have maintained a good standard of academics throughout their degree, with two graduating with First Class honours, ten with 2:1s, and one with a 2:2. 

It is no coincidence that many former women’s colleges are taking part in the Astrophoria program, with staff from both St Hughs and Sommerville hoping to build upon their colleges’ legacy of inclusion by participating in this program.

Similarly, the university is hoping to continue “broadening the socio-economic backgrounds of [their] undergraduate students”, according to Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Professor Louise Richardson. There has been success in recent years, both in terms of increasing the percentage of BAME students and students from disadvantaged, underrepresented backgrounds admitted, still the university and participating colleges acknowledge that access for promising students remains an area of improvement. 

St Hugh’s College touts the Astrophoria Foundation year as “effective opportunities to improve access”. The name of the program, a combination of “Astro”, reminiscent of the program’s “rising stars” and of the major donor’s last name, reflects this hope.

The first cohort will be welcomed to Oxford at the beginning of Michaelmas 2023.

Image Credit: Nils Lindner


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