Speaking alongside the Vice Chancellor of Oxford, Professor Louise Richardson, and Warren East (Engineering,1980) CEO of Rolls Royce, the Minister joined a debate on social mobility and access to higher education chaired by Wadham alumnus Melvyn Bragg (History, 1958).
Working with The Bridge Group, an independent policy association researching and promoting access to higher education, Wadham has evaluated the impact and effectiveness of its access and outreach work in order to understand how the College can most effectively contribute to widening access to Oxford. A robust evaluation of its aspiration days, school visits, summer schools and sustained schemes found that it is having a positive effect on raising aspiration among socially disadvantaged school students and encouraging them to consider applying to University.
Speaking at a Wadham College event in the House of Lords the Minister said: “Everyone should have the opportunity to go as far as their talents will take them, no matter what their background.
“We are working to ensure every child can have access to an education that will unlock their potential. Latest figures show that the application rate for 18 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds is at a record level and through the Higher Education Bill, we are ensuring all institutions go further and faster to promote social mobility.
“It’s clear that outreach work plays a vital role - summer schools and visits like those on offer at the University of Oxford’s Wadham College will help to ensure higher education is truly open to everyone.”
Warden of Wadham College, Ken Macdonald QC added: “With a student body among the most diverse in the University, Wadham has at its core the aim of demonstrating that fair access, international reach and academic excellence are objectives that are not in conflict but are, on the contrary, mutually dependent.”
The College has found that its Politics, Classics and Engineering summer schools, giving Year 12 students from disadvantaged backgrounds a realistic experience of University life, have been particularly effective. Following the Classics summer school, participants felt that they had a better sense that the University of Oxford was for people ‘like them’. Importantly, the College is also beginning to see an increase in students from these programmes admitted to Oxford.
Wadham has also launched a sustained academic support programme in Luton working with Year 10 pupils, to be run along the same lines as its existing programme which has been running successfully at Newham Sixth Form College for the past four years. Here Wadham selects a group of students who attend academic sessions in subjects as diverse as Classics, Theology, Materials Science and Medieval Languages, after school in Luton. They also visit Wadham College for a day trip and complete a summer project in Year 10. Support continues into Year 11 with study sessions provided by Wadham on A Level choices, study skills and a residential programme at Wadham.
In 2015/16 Wadham College ran 130 access events, involving around 6,100 students from 188 different schools. This represents a tenfold increase since 2011 in the number of schools involved in Wadham’s access events.
Wadham’s Access and Outreach work is being funded by the generosity of Wadham alumni and friends who are supporting Wadham’s Access to Excellence programme.
Leading voices from government, academia and business spoke out about social mobility at the launch of the Wadham College Impact Report at the House of Lords. Wadham’s Head of Communications, Julia Banfield, reports on the Social Mobility Summit.
Minister of State for Universities Jo Johnson set out the government’s commitment to increasing the number of school students who go on to university, and particularly increasing the number of students from BME backgrounds, Charting some of the provisions of the Higher Education Bill, he outlined the expansion of the role of the Director for Fair Access and Participation, benchmarking of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) assessment programme and providing an alternative student finance programme to help Muslim families. He stressed the need to provide school students with the right advice at the right time saying that government would be making a major investment in this and that he is “extremely supportive” of Wadham’s ambitious access initiatives.
Speaking about the University of Oxford’s commitment to broadening participation, University of Oxford Vice Chancellor Louise Richardson said: “We know we have a long way to go but no one should doubt our commitment.” She voiced her disagreement with the Minister over many aspects of the Higher Education Bill and went on to outline the inequalities which exist between different state schools depending on their catchment areas. “We should not penalise parents for sending their children to private schools”, she added.
Wadham alumnus and business leader Warren East described the Oxbridge education system as a UK asset which we are very lucky to have. As CEO of Rolls Royce he defined himself as a “consumer” of what comes out of universities, highlighting the importance in the workplace of having mixed teams from a variety of different backgrounds who can think about problems in different ways. He complimented Wadham’s access and outreach work on its focus and results summarised in the Access to Excellence Impact Report which was released at the event.
In response to a question from Wadham alumnus and panel chair Melvyn Bragg, Jo Johnson commented that the labour market mismatch has been an important part of government policy – and is important to raising productivity in the UK economy. He added that to achieve social mobility we need to look beyond access to higher education, to recruitment practices.
“The purpose of University is not just to provide a workforce,” countered Louise Richardson adding how important it was for universities to be generators of new ideas, particularly given the changing and unknown nature of the rapidly changing workplace.
An audience question on the potential for unconscious bias in the Oxford interview process received assurances from the Vice Chancellor that interviewers receive appropriate training, adding: “The degree of commitment and investment of time in the interview process at Oxford is extraordinary and exemplary.”
Warden of Wadham College Ken Macdonald QC commented that people applying to Wadham from private schools have the same chance of getting in as those applying from state schools but that contextual circumstances of each application were taken into account. He added that interview questions were designed to understand intelligence rather than fall for “polish”. In response to a question about whether students from disadvantaged backgrounds have enough support once they get into Oxford, he replied that the tutorial system is very good at picking up problems at an early stage and that the intimacy of the College environment is supportive of its members.
Louise Richardson concluded by saying that the public perception of Oxford is not a match for the reality. “We are a meritocratic institution interested in attracting the smartest students,” she said.