Oxford University’s Law Faculty has launched a new online summer programme which will offer participants who are not eligible for access and outreach programmes the opportunity to find out more about studying at Oxford and practicing law in the UK. Members of the Law Faculty and of the wider University have expressed their concerns over the consequences of promoting this course from the Oxford Law Access and Outreach account.

The summer course ‘The Oxford Introduction to Law in the UK: Thinking Deeply about Law’, will be held online in July 2021 and is open to anyone at university level. The cost of the programme is £2,500 per person. Students enrolled on the course will engage in “enrichment activities” and will have the opportunity to write an essay and receive feedback from Oxford tutors. The course will include more than 50 contact hours made up of lectures, seminars and tutorials. 

The new course, offered directly by the Faculty of Law, was advertised by the Oxford Law Access and Outreach account on Twitter but the post has since been deleted. Members of the University have responded with concerns over the impact of promoting the programme on wider access efforts. 

The course outline on the faculty website reads: “The programme is not connected to the extensive work the Faculty of Law does to promote access to University and its outreach activities to encourage the best to attend University, read law or study at Oxford. The Faculty offers free dedicated summer programmes for students who are under-represented at Oxford, as part of our commitment to attracting the very brightest students regardless of their background.”

Course Director and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, Matthew Dyson, wrote: “The Oxford Introduction summer programme is a specialist course designed to engage the best students with key aspects of law, its context and its place in the UK. It is unique in its combination of lectures, seminars and tutorials, giving an insight into the best that the Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford has to offer. If you are looking for a summer school to really stretch your mind, you’ve found it.”

Amy Gregg, Contract law tutor at Exeter and Balliol, and DPhil Law student, told Cherwell: “I sincerely hope that prospective Oxford law applicants do not look at the ‘Introduction to Law in the UK’ summer school (and its price tag) and be put off from applying to Oxford. If you are bright and hardworking, there is a place for you here at Oxford. It is absolutely not necessary to attend that summer school; when I was applying for undergraduate law, I certainly could not have afforded it. The Law Faculty and Oxford University offer a huge range of other fantastic and free resources dedicated to widening access to Oxford (including a free summer school) which I strongly encourage prospective applicants to look at.”

Dr Rebecca Menmuir, a non-stipendiary lecturer at the English Faculty, told Cherwell: “It actively goes against the idea and goodwill of outreach and access programmes to advertise a summer course at £2,500 per head, whether or not this is a reduced fee or not. It’s beyond disappointing to see such an elitist programme promoted through an account and programme which nominally should be working against such educational inequality.” 

Law student at Worcester College and UNIQ summer school alumna, Eleanor Bennett, told Cherwell: “Seeing the Faculty not only organise the summer school but then promote it on the access and outreach Twitter page was incredibly disappointing. If aged 17 I had seen that the Faculty was promoting a £2500 course, I think it would have put me off applying. I would have thought that others were able to purchase an advantage and that I didn’t really belong in a university where £2500 was seen as an ‘access-friendly’ fee. As someone who has spent the past 3 years volunteering to push the narrative that Oxford is for people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, I felt let down – it feels like the Faculty are jumping on the access bandwagon without real commitment or an understanding of how to support social mobility.” 

Arun Smith a final year undergraduate reading law at Christ Church told Cherwell: “As an undergraduate student of the faculty and a volunteer outreach ambassador at my college, it is disheartening and perplexing to see official channels being used to promote courses that are prohibitively expensive and perpetuate inequalities of access to education.” 

He added: “It is understandable (although regrettable) that the current state of higher education funding and the marketisation of universities has led to the creation of ‘cash cow’ courses to generate additional revenue. However, marketing such courses under the pretence of ‘outreach’ and promoting them to prospective students is deeply problematic and will have caused offence to many students who have relied upon and valued genuine access and outreach support.”

A spokesperson for the Law Faculty told Cherwell: “The Faculty of Law is piloting a summer programme to give people around the world a chance to engage with the research and teaching for which Oxford is famous. This pilot is a non-profit enterprise. Applications are not yet open and the final details of the programme are still being finalised.”

“We apologise that an announcement was made about the programme via the @OxLawOutreach Twitter account. This should not have happened and we have made steps to ensure this channel remains focused on our access and outreach activities in the future – activities to which we remain wholeheartedly invested in. The original tweet has been deleted to avoid the risk of confusion.”

“The Oxford Introduction to Law in the UK programme will be open anyone who to is currently at university; has graduated from university; has an offer to study at university; or is at least 19 years old by 12 July 2021. This programme is not suitable for those looking to apply to study law at undergraduate level.”

Image Credit: Simon Q / CC BY-NC 2.0

5/5/21, 16:53 – edits made to wording, changes to statement requested by Law Faculty after initial right of reply was requested