Drive For More Student Diversity Paying Off, Says Oxford University

The University of Oxford has reported a rise in the proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds starting their studies, marking its most diverse intake ever. Over the past five years, the percentage of students from socio-economically deprived areas rose from 8.2% to 15.9%. Additionally, the academic year 2020-21 saw record numbers of state-school educated students (68.6% of the total, up 18% in five years), black, Asian, and minority ethnic students (up 50% to 23.6%), and those with disabilities (up 44% to 10.4%). Early data suggest the trend is set to continue for the 2021 intake.

“We have made a concerted effort to diversify the socio-economic backgrounds of our student body. There has been a real commitment across the university,” Oxford’s vice-chancellor Louise Richardson said. “I’m enormously proud of the progress we’ve made.” Outreach activities were carried out online throughout the pandemic, with the university sending laptops and wifi dongles to ensure that all students could attend online interviews.

Following criticism from MPs and the media that the institution was not attracting a wider range of students, the university set a goal in 2015 to increase its intake from under-represented backgrounds from 15% to 25% by 2023. The current figure is 18.8%, which Richardson said is on course to reach 25%, thanks to targeted initiatives such as Uniq summer school, Opportunity Oxford, and scholarships for black British undergraduates and postgraduates.

However, Richardson acknowledged that there remain disparities among geographical regions and ethnic groups. The report showed that the university recruits a greater proportion of students from London than the region’s share of AAA+ students. Equally, Asian students made up 9.6% of UK students admitted, while students of black African or Caribbean heritage comprised 3.7%. The university is now looking to rectify this by “increasing our focus on reaching regional cold-spots” by working with schools across the country.


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