Postgraduate scholarship holders gather at the start of term in the Sheldonian. Image copyright John Cairns.
Postgraduate scholarship holders gather at the start of term in the Sheldonian. Image copyright John Cairns.

University welcomes graduate access scholars

Postgraduate students from the UK and 13 other EU countries have arrived in Oxford as part of a ground-breaking access scholarship scheme.

 115 scholars funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), and other donors, are taking up their studies at Oxford as part of a ground-breaking pilot scheme designed to promote access to taught postgraduate education for UK and other EU students.

Oxford won the largest single institution grant of £3m under HEFCE's Postgraduate Support Scheme for a project that aims to develop a greater understanding of the barriers to accessing postgraduate education, and has invested an additional £750,000 into the project. The Oxford Graduate Scholarships, supported by HEFCE, consider socio-economic background and financial circumstances in addition to academic merit in the selection process. The scholarships are fully-funded, covering all fees and a grant for living expenses.

Dr Jane Sherwood, Director of Graduate Admissions and Funding, said: 'Oxford's goal is that there should be no financial barriers to accessing postgraduate study at Oxford. We warmly welcome the chance to take part in the HEFCE pilot scheme for taught postgraduate education. Taught postgraduate courses are increasingly important for access to careers, as well as a bridge to doctoral study which can be too easily broken due to lack of funding.

'We are delighted to be welcoming 115 new graduate scholars, supported by HEFCE, to Oxford this week. This scholarship scheme was very competitive, with almost 900 applicants and a 75 percent application rate from those eligible to apply. We think this shows how strong the demand for graduate funding is.

'Looking ahead, Oxford has over 900 fully-funded scholarships available for new graduate students starting in 2015-16, provided by the University, our colleges and other supporters.'

The Oxford Graduate Scholars, supported by HEFCE, were welcomed with other scholars an event in Oxford's Sheldonian Theatre on 27 October. In total, over 1,000 new postgraduate students started their studies at Oxford this term supported by fully-funded scholarships.

Among those starting a HEFCE-funded master's programme this year is Simone Webb, who first came to Oxford as a sixth-form student attending the University's UNIQ summer school for state school students. After being accepted to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics as an undergraduate at Oxford, she is now pursuing a Master's in Women's Studies funded by an Oxford Graduate Scholarship, supported by HEFCE. She says:

'Doing a postgraduate degree was very important to me as my ultimate ambition is to go into academia, and a masters level degree is a necessary step into that, as well as a way of exploring the things which interest me most intellectually. Not receiving funding would have meant a complete rethink of my life plans, and doing something which I would have wanted to do a lot less.

'I would not have been able to do my course without the scholarship, and I believe funding which is allocated at least partly according to financial need is absolutely vital to help people take up graduate offers and contribute to their disciplines.'

Oxford's HEFCE-funded pilot project focuses on increasing mobility into and out of full-time and part-time taught postgraduate study, helping students enter a wide range of professions. It also has the aim of developing a greater understanding of the barriers to accessing taught postgraduate education. Oxford’s project has three strands, the largest of which is scholarships. The project is also funding internships and a programme in self-confidence and leadership skills for women on postgraduate taught courses.

The HEFCE-funded scholarships are part of a wider and long-term drive to vastly increase the amount of graduate scholarship funding available at Oxford. The Oxford Graduate Scholarships Matched Fund programme was launched in 2012 and this year has awarded 80 full scholarships to postgraduate students from around the world and across a wide range of departments and courses. The Matched Fund aims to create an endowment of £125 million for postgraduate scholarships (£75 million from donors, matched with £50m from the University), and should fund around 130 scholars per year.