Whilst we still believe that we can – and must – do more outreach, the announcement that this year six out of ten of Oxford’s undergraduate places (59.2%) were awarded to students from state schools indicates welcome progress. We now know a number of our initiatives, particularly those over the last four to five years, are paying off and yielding results. As a member of the Fair Education Alliance, we also believe that our work will help achieve Fair Education Impact Goal Five: To narrow the gap in university graduation, including from the 25% most selective universities. These encouraging figures probably reflect progress in two areas: the effective development of our outreach programme and the refinement of our selection process.
Last year alone, members of the collegiate University took part in more than 3,000 outreach activities across the country, reaching more than 3,400 schools and embedding their links with specific UK regions. This figure represents an increase of nearly 40% on that from 2011-12.
At the same time, our outreach has become more strategic and better targeted. The number of successful applicants who fall into one or more of our access categories is on the rise – this year over 34% of accepted UK candidates are from one or more of these categories. Our UNIQ summer school participants have an average offer success rate of more than 40% (against an overall success rate for Oxford applicants of around 20%). 43% of the high achieving BME students on our 2015/16 Target Oxbridge programme have accepted offers to Oxford. Colleges are collaborating closely on a number of initiatives including OxNet. This offers academic enrichment and applicant support to schools in parts of London and the North West and has seen a significant increase in applications to Russell Group universities since it began.
In support of these outreach initiatives, we have also reviewed our selection process. We work hard to ensure candidates are compared against each other fairly - for example we have pioneered the use of contextual data amongst UK universities. This means that wherever possible our tutors consider a candidate’s attainments within the context they are achieved. We have embedded interview training for admissions tutors to make them more aware of unconscious bias. Candidates are routinely given several chances to show their ability to different groups of interviewing tutors.
Though these figures are encouraging, and we are proud of the progress we have made, they will not make us complacent. As well as continuing to monitor our state/independent school mix, we will also evaluate our outreach work robustly to ensure that we focus effectively on the most disadvantaged students and in areas where improvement is still needed. In order to avoid duplication of effort and to maximise the use of resources, we will also further explore opportunities for effective collaboration with colleagues and other HE partners.
Finally, I would add that whilst we can improve the fairness of our selection system and work hard to increase aspiration, particularly amongst under-represented students, our success will always be limited by inequalities of opportunity and attainment, so long as these persist in the UK school system. However committed, Oxford cannot address the UK social-mobility issues alone.
Dr Samina Khan
Director of Outreach and Undergraduate Admissions, University of Oxford