Matt Taylor is studying for his postgraduate Master of Studies in Creative Writing at Kellogg College. Last year, Matt wrote about his journey to Oxford as a care-experienced student. Now, one year on, and for National Care Leavers' Week, Matt has written more about his experience at Oxford.
Last year, I was asked to write a piece about my journey from children's homes to the University of Oxford. I hadn't been here that long, so my main aim was to just show that people from the care system can make it to a place like this. Now, one year on, I'd like to share what it is like being a care leaver at the University of Oxford.
It's no secret that care leavers are massively underrepresented at this university (as at many universities), so I went in expecting to feel uncomfortable, out of place, even lonely. I went in expecting people not to understand or care. These are the same feelings I had when living in children's homes, so I just went in.
When Franz Kafka wrote, "I don't feel particularly proud of myself. But when I walk alone in the woods or lie in the meadows, all is well." I deeply, deeply felt it. The dislocating nature of seeing a whole life placed out in front of you, the way you've been told other people live it, and yet still not being able to touch it. I was there wanting to become part of the culture but still feeling like an other.
It's easy to cocoon yourself in expectations because we feel we're not supposed to be here. But my growing up in the care system also taught me not to close my eyes to the unexpected. So, when one of my senior course tutors told me she also grew up in the care system, the isolation began to thaw. A reflection emerged. I finally felt I had permission to be here. Once I gave myself permission to be here, the expectations started to melt away.
In my short time at Oxford, a lot has changed to try and break this under-representation. To deal with the financial barriers was the introduction of the Care Experienced Academic Futures Scholarship for postgraduate students, which saw four incoming scholars for 2023/24. But also on the social side, the Oxford SU Class Act campaign aims to support students from the care system and low-income backgrounds. This, to me, is the most important. Often, institutions only focus on the financial barriers. For a place like Oxford, it's really easy to find money. The real challenge is tackling the social barriers. It's a hard graft to overcome the uncomfortable, out-of-place, lonely feelings, but it's something the Student Union is committed to doing.
You have to be the change you want to make. The University of Oxford still has a lot of work to do, but they are doing it. Next year, I will have graduated, but I will be able to rest easy knowing that the conditions are now being created so that in the future, the only barriers people from the care system face are the same barriers as everyone else.