Record numbers of state school pupils given Oxford places

Richard Adams Education editor
Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

State school pupils have won nearly 70% of Oxford University’s undergraduate places next year, a record level that represents a remarkable turnaround in the university’s intake over the last five years.

Oxford announced that 69% of the offers it made this week were to British students from state schools or colleges for courses starting in October 2020, of a total of 3,909 sent to British and international applicants.

Five years ago, state school applicants to Oxford received just 56% of undergraduate offers, while 43% went to those educated at independent schools, despite a substantial imbalance in the numbers applying. The university found itself regularly criticised by MPs and policymakers for ignoring well-qualified state-educated students, especially those from black or disadvantaged backgrounds.

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But since 2015, the university has overhauled its application system and pressed individual colleges to improve their recruitment and outreach. Those efforts were given a boost by the appointment of Louise Richardson as the university’s first female vice-chancellor in January 2016.

Since then the university has expanded its widening participation efforts and outreach to schools with no or few Oxbridge applicants, while individual colleges led by Wadham and Lady Margaret Hall launched more radical schemes.

Last year, the university announced a new foundation year scheme, and committed to boosting the proportion of its undergraduate intake coming from under-represented backgrounds from 15% to 25% by 2023.

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Oxford said that more than 22% of its undergraduates admitted in October 2019 were British students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, increasing from 18% the previous year. The proportion of black students admitted rose from 2.6% in 2018 to 3.1% in 2019.

Samina Khan, director of undergraduate admissions and outreach at Oxford, said: “We are delighted by the record number of offers to state school students, and to students from under-represented backgrounds. This creates a strong foundation for what we aim to achieve.

“We know that students from some backgrounds are not as well represented at Oxford as they should be, and we are determined that this should change. Having taught in state schools during my career, I know the wealth of talent that lies there.”

Target Oxbridge – a programme created by diversity recruitment specialists Rare that includes the author Zadie Smith among its patrons – announced that it had helped a record number of British students of black heritage gain places at Oxford and Cambridge.

Target Oxbridge said it supported students of black African and Caribbean heritage in securing 32 offers from Oxford and 39 from Cambridge for 2020 entry.

Naomi Kellman, a founder of the programme, said: “We started with just six students in 2012, and so it is amazing to see the programme now supporting over 70 black British students to secure Oxbridge offers.”