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Oxford applications fall for first time in eight years

Amidst a cost of living crisis and cuts to the value of maintenance loan, Oxford University has seen a decline in admissions. There were just over 23,000 applications this year for the approximately 3,300 undergraduate places on offer, representing a 2.6% fall. It is not just Oxford however, that has suffered a decrease: there has been an across-the-board reduction in early applications through UCAS. Cambridge had a 5% decline and Medicine applications at Oxford reflected a 10% decline.

The decline comes during a burgeoning cost-of-living crisis and as changes in student loan repayment rules from 2023 have been implemented.

From the next admissions cycle, students will be required to pay back their student loans over 40 instead of 30 years and will start repaying at a lower threshold of £25,000 instead of the £27,500 it is set at currently. This, coupled with growing living costs across the country and retail inflation crossing 12%, is likely to have put off some prospective students from applying.

Applications from overseas students, which includes those from EU countries as of 2021, are in decline, not just this year, but over the past few years. Oxford University noted a 12.2% decline in EU applications for the 2023 cycle, along with a 6.4% decline in overseas applications as a whole.

The University’s decision to increase fees across the board, with an 8% increase for most humanities courses to £35,080, played a part. Visa regulations and threats from the government could also have put off many applicants, as the newly returned Home Secretary Suella Braverman had earlier threatened to restrict the number of graduate post-study work visas that can be issued. The programme, only re-introduced last year, allows students who have graduated with a UK degree to work in the country for up to two years after graduation, without the onerous restrictions applied to the points-based work visa regime.

The faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages at Oxford is likely to deal with dropping numbers this year and in the future. Fewer students are opting to take two languages at A level, limiting demand for the array of dual-language options offered within the Modern Languages degree. This year, a fall of approximately 10% has been noted in applications for the approximately 160-170 places on offer for languages.

Professor Jonathan Thacker, the Modern Languages faculty chair, told Cherwell, “The Faculty is aware of the drop in numbers in taking some Modern Foreign Language A-levels in schools in the UK and has been addressing the issue with increased outreach work. We have a dedicated Schools Liaison and Outreach Officer as well as an academic Director of Schools Liaison. We have also developed pre-sessional courses for many first years who are beginning or continuing with learning a Modern Language at Oxford. We offer most of our languages from a beginner’s level so that those who haven’t had the chance to take a particular language at school can learn it from scratch at university.”

Speaking to Cherwell, Dr Jonathan Patterson, the coordinator of the UNIQ Summer School in French, noted that attendance to the programme had been strong this past summer, perhaps as an effect of post-COVID readjustment in the education system. He also provided an overview of the variety of outreach efforts undertaken by the faculty, including but not limited to, participation in the Opportunity Oxford Bridging Programme, along with targeting prospective students from Key Stage 3 at the secondary level. This might attract a greater number of students, as GCSE choices permit or limit language study at a higher level.

Demand for places remains strong, especially among UK students, who are applying in similar numbers to the previous admissions cycle (2021-22), while the drop is pushed down by EU and overseas applicants.

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