Ambitious Oxford initiative launched to address graduate under-representation

30 September 2020

Oxford University and its colleges today announced a major new scholarship scheme for Black graduate students as part of a programme to transform its graduate population by creating more funding opportunities for under-represented groups. The Black Academic Futures programme will provide up to 10 new scholarships to Black UK research students starting studies next year.

Further graduate funding opportunities for under-represented groups have been launched by the University and colleges, with targeted scholarships for students in the Humanities and the Faculty of Law, and with other measures being taken to widen participation in programmes within the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division, as well as Medical Sciences.

Black UK graduate students are particularly under-represented at Oxford (around 1.5% of all postgraduate students compared with 4% across the UK sector). The Black Academic Futures scholarship programme aims to transform this position by rapidly increasing both applications from and funded places for well-qualified UK Black graduate students, reinforcing the University’s commitment to addressing race equality, and combatting discrimination. The new programme builds on the University’s commitment to increasing the number of promising postgraduate students from under-represented groups at Oxford. This includes the UNIQ+ access programme which provides research internships for prospective students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who may find progressing to postgraduate study challenging for reasons other than their academic ability.

Professor Martin Williams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education at Oxford University, said: ‘The University has made important steps in recognising and addressing the issue of graduate access and specifically the under-representation of Black students in academia in recent years, with a broad range of divisional, departmental and college initiatives, including scholarships. I am thrilled to announce The Black Academic Futures programme - the next step towards our vision of ensuring over time that finance is not a barrier to educational opportunity or pursuing graduate study at Oxford, and living up to our commitment to embody true inclusion.’

Increased graduate funding opportunities not only address the sector-wide call to address under-representation in academia, but they have a transformative impact on those who receive them.

Tina Mendelsohn, a doctoral student studying History, said: ‘Scholarships like the one I hold, have the capacity to increase the diversity – socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic, gender, age and therefore occupational or professional experience – that students bring to the intellectual and social life of the University.’

Nikita Ma, President of the Oxford University Student’s Union, said: ‘Access and diversity has always been one of the key themes of the Student Union's lobbying work. It is very encouraging to see the University taking steps to widen access, and we are pleased to welcome this initiative to increase Black representation at the Graduate level.’

Dr Rebecca Surender, University Advocate for Equality and Diversity, said: ‘Black Academic Futures’ is a bold and exciting new programme that in a practical way demonstrates Oxford’s unequivocal commitment to tackling structural racism and inequality, both within our own organisation and the sector more broadly. It reflects sustained effort across the collegiate university and will help to ensure Oxford attracts the very best students irrespective of background.’

Notes to editors

For further information please contact Lanisha Butterfield, Communications Manager for Education and Admissions at Oxford University, on 01865 280531 or email

Further details about the Black Academic Futures programme are available here: 

Information about these new programmes has been published alongside a comprehensive list of the growing number of targeted graduate scholarships for under-represented groups across the University and its colleges. The University’s graduate admissions team will also offer sessions on how to apply and make a competitive application to Oxford.

Supporting quotes from key University stakeholders:

Dr Nadia Pollini, Director of Graduate Admissions and Recruitment at Oxford University, said: ‘Widening participation through our access initiatives remains a top priority in our admissions work, and through these scholarships we hope to increase the number of applications from Black British students and improve equality, diversity and inclusion in our graduate student body.’

Dr Nick Brown, Principal of Linacre College, said: ‘Earlier this year the Heads of Oxford colleges publicly committed to the fair inclusion of black voices and perspectives in our University. The Black Academic Futures scholarship programme is an important first step in addressing under-representation of black students in our post-graduate community. We are delighted to be working in partnership with the University in this venture.’

Professor David Gavaghan, Professor of Computational Biology and Chair of the University’s Graduate Access Working Group, said: ‘The University’s success derives from its community of outstanding researchers and the world-leading research environment that supports them, and we are committed to improving our diversity. The launch of this ambitious new scheme providing up to 10 scholarships for Black British students in 2021-22 is an important first step in helping to address the underrepresentation of this group in academia.’

Graduate Scholarships are available at collegiate, divisional and departmental level, across separate schemes, including:

New scholarships for UK Black or ethnic minority doctoral candidates in Law, in collaboration with Merton, Christ Church, New College and Magdalen colleges
Anne Davies, Dean of the Faculty of Law, said: “I’m delighted that we have been able to create these targeted scholarships and I would like to thank our partner colleges for pooling their resources with ours. In creating these funding opportunities, we are acknowledging that the student body across the University is not as diverse as it should be, and we are investing in the future of academia.”

Targeting scholarships, incorporation of contextual data, and countering conscious and unconscious bias during selection for doctoral programmes in the Medical Sciences and Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences
Professor Robert Gilbert, Director of Graduate Studies for the Nuffield Department of Medicine and of the Medical Sciences Graduate School, said: “Oxford research programmes benefit hugely from diversity in the graduate students who come to work with us. Having incorporated socio-economic data into assessment of candidates for Medical Sciences Division scholarships in the 2019-20 admissions round, we are now piloting their use at shortlisting for interview together with colleagues from the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division who are also making use of other measures addressing conscious and unconscious bias including candidate anonymization and use of a standard online CV.”

UK BAME studentships in the Humanities 2021-22
Professor Karen O’Brien, Head of the Humanities Division, said: “The Humanities Division is delighted to be part of this scholarship programme that will ensure that we will encourage outstanding students to choose Oxford and support them in their careers”.