Following the announcement last week of a “foundation” year of studies for students from low-performing schools or of black and minority ethnicities (BME), a major UK think tank has suggested that the universities at Oxford and Cambridge open new colleges targeted at recruiting students from under-represented groups.
The director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), Nick Hillman, said that increasing the number of accessible places at Oxbridge was the only way to ensure the universities kept their student bodies as diverse as possible.
In an essay published as part of a collaborative collection between HEPI and online mentoring charity Brightside, Hillman wrote that whilst other universities have expanded their numbers of students, especially following the cap on student numbers being lifted in 2012, Oxford and Cambridge have not.
“If existing colleges are reluctant to increase their undergraduate entry, then it is time to consider founding a number of entirely new Oxbridge colleges to boost the number of students from under-represented groups at our oldest, richest and most prestigious universities,” he argues in his essay.
Hillman’s essay goes on to question why Cambridge has chosen not to create another college at its new Eddington side. “When you look at the huge northwest Cambridge site, the university is building all sorts of things there, including a school and post-doctorate accommodation, but there is no mention of a new college for undergraduates.”
However, some of the new accommodation has been given over to Girton College for its students, whilst other colleges, such as St Edmunds, are undergoing extensive rebuilding works.
The former Minister for Universities under David Willetts, Hillman has previously expressed controversial views regarding higher education, and wrote in support for new colleges in The Guardian, calling for a Branson College at Oxford and a Blair-Cameron College at Cambridge in February of last year. Though official figures would suggest that new colleges would need funding of over £1 billion in order to be able to survive in perpetuity, he believes it could be done for far less.
This and the “foundation” year initiatives come after criticism from David Lammy, MP, over BME students’ access to the elite institutions of Oxford and Cambridge. The universities have yet to publish their admissions data for the 2017 admissions round, but it is expected that Cambridge will beat its 2016 record, with over 64% of students coming from state schools, with a significant rise in the proportion of students coming from the most disadvantaged areas. Oxford is due to release its data in a few weeks’ time.