The University of Oxford has announced two ambitious new access programmes, set to bring in up to 250 students from disadvantaged backgrounds annually by 2023.

The two new programmes, Opportunity Oxford and Foundation Oxford, both aim to increase the number of students from socio-economically or otherwise disadvantaged groups, including carers and refugees.

According to a University press release, “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 undergraduate intake.

“This represents a significant step change for the University, boosting the proportion of students coming to Oxford from underrepresented backgrounds from 15% of the current UK intake to 25%.”

The first programme, Opportunity Oxford, will introduce a study programme for up to 200 students who have lodged a “normal” application to the University and are on course to achieve their entry grades but need additional support to “bridge the gap” between secondary school and university.

The programme will provide a structured course of study at home, as well as a two-week residential study course before the start of the first term. It will introduce students to lectures, tutorials, and university level group and individual work, and will also work to build on the students’ subject knowledge and academic abilities.

According to the University, this will allow these students to “begin undergraduate study with greater confidence, new friends and familiarity with life at university.”

Some students on the Opportunity Oxford programme may be those who have previously failed to meet the University’s entry requirements.

The second programme, Foundation Oxford, will run a university-wide version of the “Foundation Year” scheme pioneered at Lady Margaret Hall, and will “be offered to students who have experienced personal disadvantage or severely disrupted education.”

According to the University, “The scheme aims to open up places to students with high academic potential who, owing to their circumstances, 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 applications will then undergo a one year, subject-specific programme building their capacity for university level study: those who are successful will then move onto the Oxford undergraduate degree for which they were admitted.

The current plan is for the University to phase these programmes in, building to 200 Opportunity Oxford and 50 Foundation Oxford places by 2023.

The programmes are inspired by Univ’s existing Opportunity Programme and LMH’s innovative Foundation Year scheme.

According to the University, “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, Louise Richardson, claimed: “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.”

Meanwhile SU President Joe Inwood 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.”

According to the University, the new programmes will “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.

“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.”

Ffion Price, who studied on Univ’s Bridging Programme, said: “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, another student, who took part in the LMH foundation year and now studies Classical Archaeology and Ancient History, argued that “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.”

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