OUSU’s Vice-President for Access and Academic Affairs has stated that a summer programme hosted by LMH and St Catz will “hamper” the University’s access efforts.
The colleges host Oxbridge Preparation, a course run by a company named Oxford Royale Academy, designed to prepare prospective students for the application process.
The two week residential summer school, which accommodates sixth form age students from around the world, costs £3,595 to attend. The course syllabus includes interview technique, personal statement composition, as well as college and subject selection.
Oxford Royale Academy also promises to “introduce you to the reality of Oxbridge life”, with scheduled extra-curricular activities including croquet, punting, and themed parties in venues such as The Randolph Hotel.
Rachel Pickering, OUSU VP Access and Academic Affairs, commented: “Although businesses such as Oxford Royale are not affiliated to the University, they clearly hamper our many great access initiatives and the message that the admissions process is fair and cannot be ‘bought’. OUSU stands behind LMH and Catz JCRs, commending their commitment to access, and will support any JCR action to work with college governing bodies to amend policy to prevent such conferences from being held on college property.”
Students have criticised the colleges for hosting the courses, feeling that they are not in line with access initiatives. Jonathan Chapman, LMH JCR president, commented: “It is a shame that the College has decided to turn towards such a conference to gain extra income, which is not in keeping with the ethos it otherwise takes towards Access. The College does great work in its outreach schemes, particularly in its target areas, and these positives are what they should be seeking to replicate and for which they should be praised. While I recognise that the College must find sources of income to help fund its mission in Oxford, in the future I hope they might be more discerning with their guests.”
However, some have been more supportive of the colleges, and believe that the scheme actually improves access for poorer applicants in other ways.
Michael Fernando, Access Rep at St Catz, stated: “The conferences that Catz hosts over all the vacations allow us to have some of the lowest living costs in the University. I feel that this helps our access work to a great extent and have personally found that students from poorer backgrounds are encouraged to apply to Catz directly because of this.”
A statement from the University’s Press Office implied that the courses themselves were unnecessary, saying, “There is no trick or secret to getting into Oxford University – only those with the best academic ability and potential are accepted. ”
They added: “[T]hrough our extensive outreach efforts we work with schools in every local authority in the country to ensure students have all the information they need to make a competitive application to Oxford.” When contacted by The Oxford Student, LMH, St Catherine’s College and Oxford Royale Academy were unavailable for comment.