Commenting on Wadham’s progress, Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Louise Richardson said: “The current pandemic has exposed the deep inequities in our society and its effects will be disproportionately borne by those already disadvantaged. As the University of Oxford navigates this new world, it will be more important than ever that we ensure educational opportunity for smart, ambitious young people of every background. This is why Wadham’s redoubled focus on access and on clear headed evaluation of its programmes is so important.”
Over the past four years, Wadham College has expanded the reach and scale of its access programmes, working with more than 350 schools and 25,000 pupils. Our events programme is also expanding: we have run more than 650 events, with over 200 taking place in the last academic year.
Around half of our work engages pupils studying for their GCSEs (or equivalent). This focus is vital: many of the challenges associated with university access need to be addressed early. Over the past four years, almost 4,000 Year 9 and Year 10 pupils have taken part in Aspiration Days at Wadham, participating in academic taster sessions, delivered by tutors and postgraduate students, and exploring the range of subjects available.
At the heart of our work are programmes that engage with pupils early and over a sustained period, a strategy that research consistently shows makes the most significant difference.
Since 2015, Wadham has collaborated with schools in Luton (one of 11 link regions allocated to the College by the University), working with groups of pupils across Years 10 and 11. Today the project continues to thrive and, in collaboration with partners such as the Connolly Foundation, the College has embarked on a major expansion of the Luton Project. By 2023, 3,200 students will engage annually through the initiative as it expands to work with schools across Bedford and Bedfordshire. Rooted regionally, these programmes are recognised nationally by ministers, policymakers and in the media.
The evidence shows that our work has a direct impact on aspiration and applications. It addresses information barriers (such as how to make a successful application) and attitudinal ones (such as ‘Oxford is not for people like me’). Pupils engaging in Wadham outreach activity are more likely to apply to Oxford and Wadham – and more likely to secure a place. For example, in the last academic year, 23 of the 44 pupils who attended our residential summer schools made applications to Oxford (14 to Wadham), and 10 received offers of a place (four to Wadham). Before attending Wadham’s summer school, less than a third of participants understood how to make an effective application to Oxford and, similarly, under a third of participants felt confident they would fit in. After attending the summer school, 100 per cent of participants said they understood how to make an effective application – and 86 per cent felt confident that they would fit in at Oxford.
Wadham's dedication to its access programme, demonstrated by the construction of Oxford's first Access Centre was highlighted by Sir Michael Barber, Chair of the Office for Students, at the Wadham Social Mobility Summit in December 2019. “I’m really glad that social mobility is so firmly on the agenda for Wadham. The very fact that they are on their third Social Mobility Summit but much more importantly the Access Centre being constructed in the Back Quad, the emphasis they have given in terms of the leadership they are providing in Oxford – these things are very important.”
Warden of Wadham College, Ken Macdonald QC commented: "At a time when solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges depend on research, innovation and creative insight, supporting the brightest talent – wherever it is found – remains our unwavering priority."