For children from state schools, the odds are still stacked against them winning a place at Oxbridge. Earlier this year, Professor Les Ebdon, director of the Office for Fair Access, said “Every year that we do not have truly fair access is a year in which yet more talented people are let down by a system that should lift them up”. Despite spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on outreach programmes, the universities still have so few students from the most disadvantaged groups, so few students on free school meals, so few students from different ethnic minorities.
But as Esin Akdogan, a student from an immigrant Turkish Kurd family, waits to start her History degree at Oxford, she explains how she overcame the barriers: Oxbridge has always been my ambition. I dreamed of going to Oxbridge from Year 10 [at Skinners’ Academy] when our teachers started to give us information on university, and there were university fairs and talks. That’s when I decided to give it a shot, although I did think it was far-fetched.
I knew there weren’t many people like me at Oxbridge – I’m from a Turkish Kurd family. But I’m the head girl of a school whose motto is ‘to be the best you can’ and which teaches you that you can achieve your ambitions and that background is not a bar to academic success.
At Oxbridge, non-traditional applicants are under-represented by class and ethnicity. Its students are predominantly white and middle class, but I think not being typical applicant was my USP [unique selling point].
If Oxford was attracted to me, it’s because I’m different. I’m not a normal Oxbridge student, but Oxbridge needs people like me.
My interview for Pembroke College was very nerve wracking, but the dons were really nice. They seemed so genuine – the exact opposite of what you might expect. I thought they would be intimidating and cold, there to make you scared. But they were really welcoming and nice and made an effort to make me feel comfortable.
I had applied to Pembroke College because I had links with the college through access programmes and school alumni. I was offered a place and needed to get 3 As to meet their entry requirements.
When I got 2 As and a B, Mansfield College accepted me. I am so unbelievable lucky and grateful that they took me. It’s quite rare that people who don’t meet their requirements are accepted.
I really am ‘over the moon’!
My family are ecstatic. They were literally sobbing when I told them I had got in. They are very proud, particularly because they didn’t get to go to university because of the circumstances they found themselves in. My Dad came to the UK in the late ’80s, my mum in the ’90s.
I have no idea what I want to do after Oxford. Anything but law!
I couldn’t be more thankful to Skinners’ and all the staff: the head of Year 13, the school governors from Skinners’ Livery Company and the company itself who contacted people who could help me and arranged mock interviews.
And they did it purely out of goodwill. If it weren’t for their help I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Esin Akdogan, an Oxford student from Hackney
Esin got A grades in History and Economics and a B for Maths. She will read History at Mansfield College, Oxford. She was a pupil at Skinners’ Academy in Hackney, north London.