Oxford University has joined with the News of the World to promote its new outreach UNIQ summer school programme.
The launch is part of a drive to attract students from the maintained sector after statistics from 2008 showed that only 19.8% of successful applicants were from state school comprehensives.
The News of the World, which has a weekly readership of around eight million people, has printed three articles on the summer schools, the first of which carried the headline “We’ll get you in to Oxford”.
The popular tabloid aims to “level Britain’s educational playing field so children from every walk of life – no matter how poor their background – can be inspired to follow their dream.”
This pioneering partnership has been welcomed by News of the World readers, with over one thousand applications since the start of February.
Secretary of Education, Ed Balls, endorsed the campaign: “The News of the World’s campaign deserves everybody’s support. I’ll be making sure every school in the country knows about it.”
NUS President, Wes Streeting, has also applauded Oxford’s marketing techniques labelling it “a great initiative”, with which he’d encourage students to get involved.
Oxford has been running free summer schools since 1997 in collaboration with the Sutton Trust, but hopes to attract more students through its new programme after receiving funding from the Heslington Foundation.
Cambridge have also been affiliated with the Sutton Trust for many years, and runs a variety of outreach programmes, including events for year twelve students, children in care and ethnic minorities.
In 2007-2008, access statistics show that 57% of successful Cambridge applicants were from the state sector.
In response to Oxford’s scheme, the number of places on Cambridge summer schools has been doubled to four hundred.
Vartan Tamizian, a second year historian at Clare, spoke to The Cambridge Student (TCS) about his experience at one of Cambridge’s residential programmes in sixth form.
The course confirmed an enthusiasm for history, but was “not a decisive factor in my application to Cambridge.
“Nevertheless, I’d highly recommend it simply due to the opportunity of meeting some great people”.
His comments echo the News of the World’s concern about whether such programmes reach students who had not previously considered Oxbridge.
Speaking to TCS, CUSU Access Officer, Joe Farish, dismissed Oxford’s efforts as “a publicity drive”.
However, he emphasised that “Residential programmes are important because they give prospective applicants the opportunity to experience Cambridge for themselves. But, he added: “They are just one part of our widening participation strategy.”
Cambridge’s Head of Widening Participation, Tom Levinson, was equally unperturbed by Oxford’s fresh approach.
He told TCS that the Sutton Trust scheme, which Oxford has abandoned, “guarantees us exposure in all UK state schools”.
He added that Oxbridge as a whole would benefit from the campaign as “the combined effort will mean that more students than ever before will be able to access this valuable experience.”
Roanna Mottershead – News Reporter