Oxford spires
Spires of Oxford

Credit: Elizabeth Nyikos

Oxford’s commitment to diversity gets green light from watchdog

Oxford University’s extensive plans to increase student numbers from under-represented backgrounds have won the support of the Office for Students (OfS), the independent regulator of higher education in England.

In recent years, the University has made strides towards building a more inclusive environment. A record 61% of UK undergraduates admitted in 2019 came from state schools. Successful applications from Black and Minority Ethnic students are also at the highest level ever, with more than 18 per cent of the UK undergraduates admitted in 2018 from BAME backgrounds.

The University is determined to speed up this progress further. Its latest transformative proposals, now endorsed by the OfS, include two new access schemes: Opportunity Oxford and Foundation Oxford. Opportunity Oxford is a bridging programme aimed at students from the more disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Foundation Oxford is a year-long programme, open to students who have personally experienced particularly severe disadvantage or educational disruption. Combined with existing outreach work, like the UNIQ programme,, the two projects support the aim of one in four of the University’s UK undergraduate intake coming from under-represented backgrounds by 2023.

The OfS has set a clear priority for universities to show commitment to greater inclusion and supporting under-privileged students to thrive in higher education. The Office requests Access and Participation Plans from all universities: formal documentation of how they intend to increase diversity in their admissions and support all students to succeed on course. The OfS has approved Oxford’s plan for the next five years, the maximum possible, and recognised the ambition of the targets the University has set itself.

Professor Martin Williams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education at Oxford, said: ‘From the central University to the colleges and departments, staff and students, there is a united commitment to supporting inclusion, and making Oxford more representative of wider society. Our new access initiatives demonstrate our determination to accelerate the pace of change at Oxford, and ensure that every academically exceptional student in the country knows that they have a fair chance of a place at Oxford. This approval from OfS is a very encouraging sign that our efforts are being recognised.’

The plan also includes reshaping the University’s outreach activity to concentrate its efforts most effectively on regions where it wants to encourage more applications and all new access initiatives will be carefully evaluated for impact. A new package of funding support, targeted at students from low income households, also aims to encourage more applications, as well give greater support to under-represented students while at Oxford. The University has also set ambitious actions and targets to close the attainment gaps for black and disabled students, who currently achieve fewer top degrees than the Oxford average.

Ray Williams, Vice President for Access and Academic Affairs at the Oxford University Student Union, said: 'The Students’ Union have been fierce advocates of access for many years and we were very happy to contribute to this vital work. A more diverse student body is brilliant for both the University, wider society, and the students themselves. This plan is a great foundation for future collaboration towards that goal.’