Image credit: Sheng Peng
Oxford University has unveiled two access schemes which will enable more academically talented students from under-represented backgrounds to successfully apply to study. Image credit: Sheng Peng

Two new Oxford initiatives to help students from under-represented backgrounds

Oxford University has today unveiled two access schemes which will enable more academically talented students from under-represented backgrounds to apply successfully to study.

The combined impact of the ambitious programmes represents a major progression for the University. The two new programmes – Opportunity Oxford and Foundation Oxford – aim to increase significantly the number of most promising students from groups who are currently under-represented in Oxford. Opportunity Oxford is aimed at students from more disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Foundation Oxford will be open to students who have personally experienced severe disadvantage or educational disruption.

When fully up and running, these major new programmes will offer transformative paths to outstanding education for up to 250 state school students a year, representing 10% of Oxford’s UK undergraduate intake. This represents a significant step change for the University, boosting the proportion of students coming to Oxford from under-represented backgrounds from 15% of the current UK intake to 25%.
The schemes offer students the chance to immerse themselves in the Oxford environment, developing their study skills and their subject knowledge. The students will benefit from the University’s internationally outstanding teaching facilities while living and studying in a college community. By the end of their programmes they will have developed the confidence to meet the challenges of a demanding undergraduate degree. Both schemes will be free and students’ residential and living costs will be fully funded throughout the courses.

The Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Professor Louise Richardson, said: 'This is a sea change in Oxford admissions. Colleagues from across the University, its colleges and departments 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.'

The schemes:

  • From the next admissions round, Opportunity Oxford will see the University introduce a residential study programme for up to 200 students who have applied to the University in the normal way and are on course to gain the required grades, but need additional support to transition successfully from school to Oxford. These students may have narrowly missed out on a place in previous years. Opportunity Oxford will comprise structured study at home plus two weeks of residential study at Oxford just before the start of the undergraduate term. The course will introduce students to lectures, tutorials and group and individual work, building their subject knowledge, academic abilities and self-reliance. Students will then begin undergraduate study with greater confidence, new friends and familiarity with university life.
  • The University is also developing Foundation Oxford, a full-year programme to be offered to students who have experienced personal disadvantage or severely disrupted education. The scheme aims to open up places to students with high academic potential who, for reasons beyond their control, are not yet in a position to make a competitive Oxford application. Eligible students could include refugees and children in care or with care responsibilities themselves. Once in operation, offers for Foundation Oxford will be made on the basis of lower contextual A-level grades, rather than the University’s standard offers. Successful students will undertake a year-long, bespoke, subject-specific programme, building their capacity for independent study. The participants will all be based at Oxford colleges and, provided they successfully complete the programme, will move on to the Oxford undergraduate degree that they initially applied for.

Joe Inwood, President of Oxford Student Union, said: 'This is a major step forward in improving access to Oxford. Students are excited to see the University commit to these new initiatives, and it is a reflection on student efforts to bring this to the forefront of the University agenda. Oxford SU has long held access at the heart of our work, so this is excellent news for Oxford students.'

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the 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.

'It’s good that Oxford are offering a more intensive foundation year programme alongside a lighter touch one.  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.

'Our research has shown that many poorer pupils with the grades to get into Oxford or Cambridge just don’t apply. Hence it’s crucial that these programmes are targeted at the right young people by working closely with schools and colleges.'

Ffion Price, who studied on University College’s bridging programme, says: 'As a student who knows first-hand the benefits of access initiatives such as the Univ bridging programme, I could not be happier to see the University taking the necessary steps to ensure that more prospective students of the future are extended the same life-changing opportunity. It is a turning point for this institution – a recognition that, while unfortunately students up and down the country are not afforded a level playing field, as an institution we are capable of generating initiatives that help to combat that. It is a significant step towards ensuring that those who are capable, and have had to endure unique circumstance and hardship through no fault of their own, are afforded the opportunity to succeed as much as anyone else.'

 Cherelle Malongo, a first-year Classical Archaeology and Ancient History student who was on the 2017/18 Foundation Year at Lady Margaret Hall, says: 'I am very pleased to hear that the University will be introducing Foundation Oxford. As a beneficiary of the LMH Foundation Year, I am heartened to know many more students will benefit from an Oxford education. As a young woman from Newham, Oxford seemed a distant dream, but since arriving in September 2017, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. The Foundation Year has changed my life and today’s announcement means many more lives will be transformed in the future.'


These new initiatives build on the success of Oxford’s existing activities to open its doors to a wider field of students. These include the UNIQ summer school, the Oxnet communities’ initiative and the use of contextual information to select students for undergraduate courses.

The programmes are modelled on existing successful College initiatives, Opportunity Oxford, follows University College’s (UNIV) pioneering Opportunity Programme, while Foundation Oxford draws on Lady Margaret Hall’s (LMH) innovative Foundation Year scheme.

Most recent figures for the 2019 intake show a record 64.5% of offers were made to students from state schools while 15.7% of offers went to students from the most under-represented backgrounds. This summer will see UNIQ expand by 50% to help a total of 1,350 state school pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds transform their chances of making a successful application to Oxford. The two new programmes will accelerate this pace of change, increasing equality of opportunity and helping the University select the undergraduates with greatest potential while maintaining high academic standards.

The University plans to phase in the programmes, building up to 200 Opportunity Oxford places and 50 for Foundation Oxford by 2023. The intention is that Opportunity Oxford and Foundation Oxford programmes will cover a wide range of Oxford’s undergraduate courses, which will attract talented students to the University.