Oxbridge should open new colleges for disadvantaged students - report
It is recommended that there should be more diversity in the Oxbridge student bodies. Source: Michael Hayhow/AFP

Oxbridge is world-famous for being elitist institutions made up of “arrogant snobs” from rich, well-connected families. It’s not exactly where a working-class student would peg himself at during his university years.

For international students, the lack of accessibility appears more heightened. After all, not only do you need superb grades and a lot of funds to afford to study here, you have to jump through several cultural and language hurdles during the rigorous interview process too. These are persistent barriers that the elite schools have been facing for a while now.

With this in mind, the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) has published a few suggestions to make these famed institutions more open to all.

Oxbridge has always lacked diversity in its student body. Source: Shutterstock

To widen access to university, UK’s Members of Parliament, think tanks and academics are calling on Oxbridge to build a new generation of colleges which will admit more disadvantaged students to balance their disproportionately white and rich student cohort. It’s a “practical solution,” similar to how other universities have expanded, the BBC reported.

“People from rich households are more likely to reach the most prestigious institutions, white working-class boys rarely make it to higher education and there is a big black attainment gap,” said Hepi director Nick Hillman.

“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.”

Oxbridge said they have “no plans” to open new colleges. According to Oxford, their own full-time undergraduate numbers reveal they have expanded their student body by two percent but Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) estimates there has been a 21 percent decrease over the last five years. Cambridge’s first-year student numbers did not fare much better, with just a four percent increase.

For context, other universities’ student numbers have expanded up to more than 50 percent. For example, the University of Surrey and University College London have expanded by 57 and 36 percent respectively.

Widening access for students from racially-disadvantaged and lower-income backgrounds, such as white working-class boys should be “top priority” according to Anne-Marie Canning of King’s College London. They are the “most under-represented group in higher education”.

But not everyone agrees that funneling more students into universities to get academic degrees is the way to solve the problem of lack of social mobility, however.

For Robert Halfon, Conservative chair of the Commons education select committee, there should be discussions about our “obsession” with academic degrees and taking a more balanced view on vocational qualifications.

“Our labour market does not need an ever-growing supply of academic degrees. There are not the jobs available and for many graduates the return on their investment is paltry,” said Halfon.

Hepi’s suggestions will be seny to Chris Millward, the new director for fair access and participation.

“Despite the progress made in access and participation for some groups, there are still wide gaps for mature students, for white males from the lowest income groups, and at the universities with the highest admissions requirements,” said Millward.

“And when students do enter higher education, certain groups also face real barriers to succeeding during and after their studies, particularly black and Asian students and those with disabilities,” said Millward.

It’s important that international students advocate for their universities to have a more diverse and inclusive student body. The benefits outnumber the cons – Having a broad range of different backgrounds helps students learn about new ideas as well as how to develop their own unique perspective, for example.

Having students with a healthy mix of age, sexual orientation, race, class, etc means also help students listen, adapt, and be respectful of differences – skills that will be much helpful when they enter the workplace and adulthood. The list goes on.

With such perks, it’s no wonder groups have been pushing to lower the barriers to education in university.

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