Outreach and access work in Oxford and beyond

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Last week, the OxStu published an article on the varied quality of Outreach / Access work taking place across the University, and it is true that more needs to be done generally, and particularly at some colleges, to improve how Oxford is seen by potential students. This is especially important at the moment with articles like the Daily Mail’s take on trashing as the activity of the “Oxford elite”.

Merton is lucky to have such an excellent Outreach programme with a seemingly endless stream of school groups coming through its doors, but even if you are at a college that does not push Access work as much then there are still other things that can be done. When you go home at the end of Trinity most schools will still be in the full swing of things: an excellent opportunity to visit and amaze everyone with your wonderful tales of university life! Even if it as something as simple as giving an assembly or working with a class as a one-off session at your old school to get them thinking about the future. It is not even about relentlessly plugging Oxford; what I feel is more important is encouraging students to pursue any university education without being put off by financial fears or worries about the vast unknown that is university, although according to The Guardian in February of this year we need all the help we can get to dispel ideas that Oxbridge is just for “white middle-class Eton people”. I, for example, am going back to my old state school at the end of June as part of a day organised for the Year 11 students about A Levels and life beyond Secondary School. Getting students to feel confident enough to apply to Russell Group universities, let alone Oxbridge, is a challenge in many schools and one of the most important things is establishing a tradition. Seeing people who were once in your own position progressing on to some of the world’s best universities is a powerful thing and it is as much about changing the mindset of the teachers, who have such an influence in a student’s academic career, as it is about the students.

Initiatives like Teach First, Schools Plus through the Oxford Hub, and IntoUniversity work tirelessly to bring about this change across the country; to encourage students to consider an academic future, to help them achieve their academic potential, and to “expose” students from a relatively young age to individuals like yourself at University. One of the scariest things about University is that it is such an unknown quantity while you are at school and giving students the opportunity to ask questions as simple as ‘what do you eat?’ or ‘how far do you have to walk between your lessons?’ (two questions my 13-year old IntoUniversity mentee was particularly intrigued by) is invaluable. While it is important to encourage colleges to bring schools into Oxford, in some cases, one-on-one time with a University student or smaller group sessions you can run in your old school are more effective because pupils can feel more confident to ask the questions important to them.

What I am trying to say and basically the moral of the story is that you should not be discouraged by the amount of Outreach work your own college is doing – there’s plenty you can be doing too – and if you are reading this having never considered Access work before then what are you waiting for? Get started!

PHOTO: Piers Nye