Putting the Annual Admissions Statistical Report in Context at Worcester

11 May 2021

Every year, Oxford University releases its Annual Admissions Statistical Report, breaking down the number of applications and acceptances over a three year period by college and subject, as well as by a number of different demographic groups and indicators of educational and socio-economic disadvantage. Most of the data presented in the report that has been released today is aggregated for the admissions years 2018-2020. For us as a College, the fact that the report covers a three year period allows us to evaluate the changes we have made within that time, and to reflect on the work we have done to make access fairer.

In 2018, Worcester College’s intake was drastically different from the profile of our current offer holders. Just 69% of students admitted to study at Worcester College in 2018 were educated at state schools, 13% were BAME, 14% came from areas with low levels of progression to Higher Education and 13% were living in areas of socio-economic disadvantage. In 2019, the picture was similar, and the College knew that something needed to change.

The process we went through to empower our tutors to recognise diverse potential in our applicants and to take their contexts into account in our evaluations of them is set out at more length here. Its effect was immediate, and transformational. In 2020, 83% of our intake were educated at state schools, 36% were identified by the College Admissions Report as BAME, 20% came from areas with low levels of progression to Higher Education and 22% from socio-economically disadvantaged areas. In the space of a single admissions cycle, we had met our short term access objective (to become representative of the group of students nationally who achieve AAA or higher at A-Level) and had begun to work towards our long term goal, of becoming genuinely representative of society. In the following year, in spite of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its catastrophic impact on educational inequality, we were able to sustain the progress we had made, and to make even more progress on educational and socio-economic disadvantage: more than a third of our 2021 offer holders are in Band A, the university’s measure of the greatest levels of disadvantage. The Annual Admissions Statistical Report aggregates these very different year groups, and in doing so it reminds us of how far we have come since 2018.

This dramatic change in the profile of our intake has been fantastic news for all of our students, and for the college as a whole – genuinely diverse communities that value and respect the unique contributions of each individual are ideal educational environments. And it has required us to renew our commitments to equity and equality in the daily life of the college. We have increased our student support budget, and with the generous support of the Dorset Trust created the new Equal Access to Learning Fund that has provided many of our students and offer-holders with books, laptops and other academic materials. We have also been joined by our new Learning Development Officer, whose remit is to work with students to counter the effects of educational disadvantage and to train tutors in more inclusive teaching methods; and we have put in place a number of new initiatives around decolonisation and anti-racism. Access work does not end when applicants become offer-holders, nor even when they become our students, and our work to ensure that Worcester College is a happy, supportive, equitable and inclusive environment for all of our students is very much ongoing.

Although we have come a long way since 2018, we still have plenty of work to do. Increasing the number of BAME students within our intake has enabled us to look beyond the catch-all term ‘BAME’. Between 2019 and 2020 the number of Asian students (including Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani students) and Black students in our UK intake has increased dramatically. This is an encouraging sign, given that some of these groups are among the most under-represented across the Higher Education sector. But of the 10 Black students in our 2020 intake, very few were Black Caribbean students. This under-representation of Caribbean students is something we have now begun to work on specifically in our access work, launching a bespoke access programme ‘Thinking About Oxford for Caribbean Students’ supported by the African and Caribbean Society. Now that we no longer under-represent BAME students, or Black students as a whole group, we can start to oppose educational inequality in increasingly targeted and specific ways. The Annual Admissions Statistical Report is an important marker in 2021. It allows us to reflect on how far we have come since 2018, and galvanises us for the work we have still to do.  

Dr Marchella Ward, Tinsley Outreach Fellow