Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Higher Education Funding Council for England

Question 239-241:  What proportion of visits are to schools which they [Oxford and Cambridge Universities] have not previously recruited from?

  Neither of the Universities were able to provide a specific response to this question in the time available. All the colleges undertake recruitment activities, and it would take some time to collate the statistical information required to formulate an accurate response. We have therefore prepared a more general note on activities by these two universities to widen participation. This note is drawn together from documentation and information provided by the Universities to the Council.


  The University of Oxford has an extensive widening participation programme aimed at the post-16 sector, but it is also has programmes for the pre-16 sector, which it intends to expand with HEFCE funding. All colleges and schools receive regular mailings to inform heads, principals, and teachers about access activities. Their widening participation strategy involves a wide set of focused activities with the maintained sector in general and maintained schools and colleges with no or little history of sending applicants to Oxford. HEFCE funding for widening participation is not used for visits involving students from the independent sector. These visits are funded from college or Oxford College Admissions Office funds and form part of a general programme of schools liaison activities

  Tutors, admissions office staff, and student groups visit schools or colleges, or groups of schools, throughout the year. The University also has a Sutton Trust Recruitment Officer who targets the FE sector specifically. They also hold several major regional events, which enable them to reach out to hundreds of schools and colleges across the country. Last year the University held conferences at St James' Park (Newcastle FC), and the Dylan Thomas Centre (Swansea). Jointly, with the University of Cambridge, they participated in events at Old Trafford (Manchester United FC), Wembley, and Murrayfield (Edinburgh). These events involved over 6,000 students and teachers. A similar programme is planned this year.

  Students from over 1,500 schools and colleges were reached outside Oxford last year. The vast majority of these (around 90 per cent) will have been from the maintained sector. Many will have had little, or no experience of submitting candidates to the University of Oxford. The Admissions Office, for instance, arranged visits to and from 53 schools and colleges in 2001 of which 91 per cent were from the maintained sector.

  They also have an extensive programme of visits to the University, with students from up to 2,000 schools and colleges visiting them. The University believes that this is what schools and colleges find especially effective in breaking down barriers and encouraging participation. Many of the visits to Oxford are for students in younger age groups and some from schools without a sixth-form, for which they will not have an historical record of applications. These visits focus on raising aspirations to higher education in general. For example, one visit involved representatives giving a presentation to students from Key Stage three and a return visit from these students to Oxford. In addition, they organise an established programme of summer schools. The University's Sutton Trust Summer School involves over 250 year 12 students from maintained sector schools with priority given to those with little or no experience of sending candidates to Oxford and/or little family history of higher education. The University also runs a HEFCE Summer school for around 100 year 11 students from maintained sector schools, once again with priority being given to those with little or no experience of sending applicants to Oxford and/or little family history of higher education. To improve their service and the opportunities for potential applicants to visit the university they will be opening an Admissions Information Office in March 2002 in the centre of Oxford.

  For entry in October 2002 the University of Oxford had an increase of 16.2 per cent in its applications from 9,548 to 11,097. The numbers applying from the maintained sector rose by 24 per cent, compared with a 6.7 per cent rise from the independent sector. This increase in applications from the maintained sector came from a total of 1,390 maintained schools compared with 1,265 maintained schools in the previous year.


  The University is addressing the issue of widening access and participation to students from state schools through a number of initiatives:

    —  The Cambridge University Students Union (CUSU) Target Campaign involves around 1,000 undergraduate volunteers currently studying at Cambridge going into maintained schools and colleges in their home area during the Easter vacation. Every state sixth form in the country receives a mailing in the autumn, inviting requests for a Target visit.

    —  The Target Campaign also offers shadowing weekends, where sixth formers from all over the country come to Cambridge for three days and shadow someone doing a subject that they are interested in. The scheme is aimed at applicants from people whose schools have very little or no previous contact with Oxbridge.

    —  The University has two Access/Schools Liaison Officers and a Further Education Liaison Officer. These posts have been appointed to visit schools and colleges to talk to pupils and teachers about applying to Cambridge.

    —  The University is involved in the Excellence Challenge initiative, and has developed links with the LEAs to advance this work.

    —  The University is one of a number of universities to host a summer school financed by the Sutton Trust. All state schools are invited to put forward the names of one or two candidates for the summer courses.

    —  Another access initiative by St John's College called "Eagle" aims to help bright young people from inner city Lambeth. Funding, from a donor wishing to remain anonymous, is worth 125,000 a year for five years.

    —  The colleges cooperate in a programme of links with schools and colleges in particular LEA areas. Each college deals with one or more LEA. For example, Jesus College assists students from the Newcastle area.

    —  The University is an active member of the Four Counties widening participation group (with Anglia Polytechnic University, Essex University, Norwich School of Art & Design, University of East Anglia, the Open University and Writtle College). One of the main areas of activity is the "Children into universities" project which involves providing a range of events aimed at year 8 and 9 pupils (and parents) from schools in areas of low HE partcipation.

    —  There is a major programme of undergraduate bursaries.

  Latest figures for admissions and applications to the University (published in January 2002) show that the proportion of state schools applicants has increased. Applicants from the maintained sector now make up 53 per cent of the home intake compared to last year's 50 per cent.

Question 459:  Do places like [Oxford and Cambridge Universities] still discriminate against applicants that do not have a foreign language O Level or GCSE?

  The University of Oxford does not have a general stipulation that entrants should have a qualification in a language other than English.

  The University of Cambridge's minimum entrance requirements are qualifications in five subjects: English, a language other than English, an approved mathematical or scientific subject, and two other approved subjects. For candidates with GCSE and GCE, at least two of these subjects must be at Advanced GCE, the others in GCSE at grades A, B or C. If there are good reasons why applicants are not able to satisfy the matriculation requirements, they can consult the Admissions Tutor of their preferred college, to find out if the college would be able to ask the University to waive the requirement.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England

February 2002


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