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University 2021 admissions report: smaller cohort, more diversity

The University of Oxford published its fifth annual admissions report in May 2022, providing a summary of undergraduate admissions data ranging from overall numbers and domicile to nationality, disadvantage, school type, gender, ethnicity and disability. 

The University admitted 3,298 undergraduates in 2021, returning to a smaller cohort after exceptional arrangements for awarding qualifications in response to the pandemic led to a much larger class (3,695 students) being admitted in 2020. These 3,298 admitted students were whittled down from a pool of 24,338 total applications in 2021, of which 3,555 received offers from the University for an offer rate of 14.6%.

The report took care to highlight the changing profile of Oxford’s undergraduate student body. Over the past five years, the proportion of students admitted from state schools rose from 58.0% in 2017 to 68.2% in 2021 — although the proportion was 68.6% in 2020. Students from the most socio-economically disadvantaged areas increased from 11% of 2017 admits to 17% in 2021 (compared to 15.9% in 2020). The percentage of students identifying as Black and Minority Ethnic increased from 18% five years ago to 23.6% in 2020 and 25% in 2021. Students declaring a disability increased from 8% in 2017 to 12% in 2021. And the proportion of women rose from 50% in 2017 to 55% in 2021. Overall application numbers have increased every year and by a total of 22% since 2017.

In her foreword, Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson attributed these changes in part to the expansion of Oxford’s flagship UNIQ access programme for state school students, as well as the bridging program Opportunity Oxford. In 2022, the University will also launch the Astrophoria Foundation Year, for “those with high potential whose education has been severely disrupted,” according to the report.

However, Richardson also noted concern about the steep decline in students admitted from the European Union (EU), even though the University expected a decline due to the changing fee regime brought about by Brexit. (Oliver Hall reports in more detail below.)

Computer Science was the course with the highest number of applicants per place for the period 2019-2021, at 18.6, with Economics & Management close behind at 18.1 applicants per place. Mathematics & Computer Science, Medicine, and Biomedical Sciences followed not far behind at 12.5, 11.8, and 10.9 respectively. 

Using the ACORN and POLAR demographic systems to assess UK population by level of socio-economic advantage, the report found that History & Politics and Law were the courses to admit the highest proportion of students from the two most disadvantaged areas (26.8% and 25.0% respectively). Materials Science and Theology & Religion were the two courses with the lowest proportion of admits from the most disadvantaged areas (9.1% and 10.0% respectively). These data were aggregated from 2019-2021.

The same measure revealed that Mansfield College (23.2%) and Worcester College (22.0%) had the highest proportions of UK students admitted from the two most socio-economically disadvantaged areas, and Lincoln College (7.2%) and Merton College (11.1%) had the lowest among 29 of the undergraduate-admitting colleges at Oxford that were included in the assessment. 

In terms of the proportion of UK state school students admitted, Mathematics & Computer Science had the highest (83.6%) and Classics the lowest (40.9%). The report notes that some courses attract more applications per available place than others, and UK state students apply disproportionately for the most oversubscribed subjects. On average, 38.2% of state applications from 2019-2021 were for five of the most oversubscribed subjects at Oxford (Economics & Management, Medicine, PPE, Law, and Mathematics), compared to 31.4% of independent applications. Only 12.3% of state applications went towards five of the least oversubscribed subjects (Classics, Music, Modern Languages, Chemistry, and English). 

Likewise, individual colleges receive differing proportions of applicants from state versus independent schools. The proportion of UK state school students admitted was highest at Mansfield College (94.8%) and lowest at St. Peter’s College (55.6%) from 2019-2021.  

The admissions report can be read in full here.

Image credit: Estelle Atkinson

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