Oxford University to offer free year of study to disadvantaged students with lower grades

Move is 'sea change' in admissions for university, vice-chancellor says

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Tuesday 21 May 2019 08:05
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The degree was awarded in 1993
The degree was awarded in 1993

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds that fail to meet the A-level grades required for entry to the University of Oxford will be offered a free year of study under new measures to widen access.

The institution is launching programmes to help disadvantaged students who are offered a place at Oxford but struggle to meet entry requirements, or need help with the transition.

One in four undergraduates at Oxford will be from the UK's most underrepresented backgrounds by 2023, the university has claimed. Currently only 15 per cent are from this group.

The announcement comes after both Oxford and Cambridge came under increased pressure over a lack of diversity after some of their colleges admitted failed to admit a single black student.

Around 50 bright students who have experienced severe disadvantage or educational disruption, and are not in a position to make a “competitive application”, will be offered a foundation year.

Students eligible for the programme, who will be able to get a place with lower A-level grades than other applicants, may include refugees and children in care or with care responsibilities themselves.

The participants will all be based at Oxford colleges and provided they successfully complete the programme, will move on to the undergraduate degree for which they were admitted.

Another programme, aimed at students from poorer backgrounds who do have the required grades, will help up to 200 students get additional support to transition successfully from school.

The free scheme will comprise of structured study at home, plus two weeks of residential study at Oxford, just before the start of the undergraduate term.

When fully up and running, the programmes aim to help up to 250 state school students a year, representing 10 per cent of Oxford’s UK undergraduate intake.

Professor Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, described the movement as a “sea change” in the admissions for the world-renowned university.

She said colleagues “have united behind a commitment to accelerate the pace at which we are diversifying our student body and ensuring that every academically exceptional student in the country knows that they have a fair chance of a place at Oxford."

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of social mobility charity Sutton Trust, said: “It’s great to see Oxford looking to new solutions to tackle the problem of how to support students from under-represented backgrounds. The scale of these programmes is really impressive.”

On the foundation year, Sir Peter said: “Many poorer students just narrowly miss out on places because they haven’t quite got the grades required. This will give a wider pool of students access to one of the world’s great universities.”

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Last year, the University of Cambridge revealed similar plans to widen access when it announced it would give dozens of disadvantaged students that fail to meet the grades a free foundation year.

The vice chancellor said at the time, however, that he could not guarantee that all of the students on the foundation programme would be admitted to Cambridge for an undergraduate degree.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “All our top universities should take urgent action to improve access to students from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds, and this is an important step in the right direction. For too long our top universities have been a closed club, with access dominated by a wealthy and privileged elite.

“Universities have not taken the necessary steps required to improve access and the government has taken no meaningful action to hold them to account for a shocking lack of progress.”

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