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Let’s hope more Universities follow Oxford’s diversity drive

Commenting on The University of Oxford’s new initiatives to boost numbers of students from under-represented backgrounds,

Dr Luke Heselwood, said:

“Oxford University already spends over £4.5 million a year on improving access, considerably more than other top Universities. This begs the question: why is their record so bad?

“Offering 50 new foundation places by 2023 is welcome, but it’s a drop in the ocean when 40% of Oxford students are from a private school, compared to 7% in the country.

“Disadvantaged students who get high enough grades to attend a top University are less likely to apply to one. Oxford’s efforts may be better spent targeting them.”

The think tank has previously called for a national campaign similar to Better Make Room in the USA, which targets disadvantaged pupils via text and Snap Chat to encourage applications from those with high enough grades.

Reform is again calling for universities to publish detailed breakdowns of their widening participation spending to the Office for Students, to help understand which programmes are effective and to improve value for money.

Research undertaken by Reform in 2018 found considerable discomfort from universities with the current measure used to assess disadvantage, which uses POLAR3 data. The think tank is reiterating it’s call for a new measure for assessing universities progress in improving access, which takes into account key indicators not currently considered, such as Free School Meal status.

“Oxford University already spends over £4.5 million a year on improving access” – taken from data used to calculate amounts presented in the table on page 16 of Reform’s November 2018 report “Gaining Access: Increasing the participation of disadvantaged students at elite universities”. In the report this figure is presented per student, which is £1542, to allow for better comparison between different Universities. This is 2016/17 data.   

Responding to the announcement of two new access schemes at the University of Oxford, Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation, said:

“Radical change is needed if gaps in access between the most and least advantaged students are to shrink at the most selective universities. These proposals from Oxford are a positive step in the right direction, although of course there is much more to do.

“The Office for Students has, and will continue to, put pressure on these universities to close the gaps which mean five times more students from advantaged backgrounds are admitted compared to their disadvantaged peers. It is good to see a number of universities, including Oxford, responding positively to this pressure. We will look closely at the effectiveness of these innovative new schemes in order to make sure that it is your potential, and not your postcode, that is the key to getting on in life.”

Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson and MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, Layla Moran said:

“This is welcome news from Oxford as setting clear ambitious targets will drive innovative solutions. But it begs the question, what about other top universities?

”I’d like to see the Office for Students do more to promote a drive to the top where Universities compete to ramp up diversity. Only then will we start to see real society wide social mobility.”

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