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Oxford accepts record number of students from most deprived areas of the UK

·4-min read

The University of Oxford accepted record numbers of students from the most deprived areas of the UK last year, but young people from some regional “cold-spots” remain under-represented at the institution.

The proportion of British students from the most socio-economically disadvantaged areas admitted to Oxford last year increased to nearly one in six (15.9%) – up from 12.2% the previous year, statistics show.

It comes as elite universities are under increased pressure to widen access and make sure students from poorer backgrounds are not put off from applying.

The university’s Undergraduate Admissions Report confirmed that Oxford admitted a record proportion of state school pupils (68.6%) last year following the A-level grading chaos over the summer.

Overall, the proportion of British students from areas with low progression to higher education admitted to Oxford last year rose to 15.6%, from 14% in 2019.

But the figures also show that nearly half (48.3%) of UK students admitted to Oxford between 2018 and 2020 still came from London and the south east of England.

Only 15.1% were from the north of England – with just 2.1% admitted from the North East, 4.9% from Yorkshire and Humber and 8.1% from the North West.

Dr Samina Khan, director of undergraduate admissions and outreach at the University of Oxford, said: “The pandemic will continue to hit the least advantaged students for a while, hence we remain resolute in stamping out inequality in access to Oxford.

“Working together with schools across the country, we are increasing our focus on reaching regional ‘cold-spots’ where the most talented young people are still under-represented at Oxford – driving down the risk that we are missing out on some of the UK’s brightest students.”

The report also highlights figures, first released in February, showing that 23.6% of UK undergraduates admitted to Oxford in 2020 were from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds – a record high.

The number of black students was 3.7% of the intake last year, up from 3.2%, but the number admitted to some Oxford colleges and courses remains low.

Between 2018–2020, there were five or fewer black UK-domiciled students on 13 of Oxford’s largest courses, the figures show.

Over the three years, there was one UK black student admitted to biology, one for geography, three for physics and four for history and politics, according to the university’s annual admissions report.

In five of Oxford’s colleges – Lincoln, Merton, St Hilda’s, Queen’s and Trinity – just five or fewer UK black students were recruited over the same period, which is lower than the previous year.

Last year, the university accepted around 300 more students than usual after a number of A-level students missed their grades under Ofqual’s algorithm, which was used when exams were cancelled.

In a foreword to the report, Professor Louise Richardson, University of Oxford vice-chancellor, said: “Students and staff alike have taken enormous pride in the work of our academics in developing vaccines and therapeutics as well as enhancing our understanding of Covid-19.

“It is no surprise then that our admissions numbers continue to rise as prospective students see the many contributions Oxford makes to society both nationally and globally.”

She added: “While the pandemic has, in many ways, changed the way we operate, it has not weakened our commitment to diversifying the make-up of our student body.

“Notwithstanding all the adjustments and adaptations required by the pandemic we remain committed to ensuring that every talented, academically driven pupil in the country, wherever they come from, sees Oxford as a place for them.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “We are very pleased to see the progress that the University of Oxford is making on improving representation of disadvantaged students in its intake.

“However, there is clearly still more work to be done, and it is very worrying to see the under-representation of students from the north of England.

“This isn’t just a matter for Oxford and other universities. It requires a society-wide effort to improve the life chances of all children and young people through joined-up and transformative social and educational policies.”

Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students (OfS), said: “The University of Oxford, like all other universities registered with the OfS, has agreed ambitious targets with us to improve access and participation for disadvantaged students within the next five years.

“We are monitoring closely each university’s progress towards these targets, including those relating to neighbourhoods with the fewest students entering higher education, which we know are concentrated in coastal areas, former industrial towns and parts of cities across the country.”

He added that it was “crucial” that Oxford and Cambridge “become more representative of all parts of the country” as many elite jobs go to Oxbridge graduates.

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