I applied to Oxford with three As and a B, against the advice of my school. I remember there were also three girls who got two As and two Bs and received even stronger discouragement. Of the four of us three of us were the only people in our year to get an offer from Oxford. This highlights a crisis in the heart of access work. Oxford is an institution dedicated to getting the brightest and most enthusiastic minds but that message is being lost in translation. As such, access work is fighting an uphill battle against misinformation. I see two fronts in this battle over the next year. The first is finding a way to reach specifically students who are bright but get sidelined and ignored by school Gifted and Talented programmes. The second is finding a better way to measure our access work.
The brightest students should feel able to apply to Oxford, regardless of their background or circumstances, but the point is that exams are a pretty poor indication of potential. This is something that the Oxford admissions system largely accepts, with aptitude tests and interview performance taking precedence over AS results for most subjects. Unfortunately, most students don’t realise this. It doesn’t help that the contact access ambassadors have with schools is mainly with a preselected group of people who do very well, in exams. As such, many students fall through the net or become disengaged from education. As one of the best universities in the world, I feel that we have a duty in this instance to help re-engage students with not only the idea of coming to Oxford but more importantly, the very real possibility of going to university.
As a mentor for Debate Mate, in both the UK and Nepal, I have witnessed first hand the power of connecting students with both the aspiration and skills to open the door to university. Moreover, as a student on the programme myself, I realised that whilst I had considered myself relatively ambitious, the regular contact with mentors like Jane, really opened the door to seeing opportunities I couldn’t have found myself. As a result of this, I am a huge advocate of the impact of mentoring and I pledge to support any Common Room access officer who wishes to set up a mentoring service.
The second is working out how we measure access work. The biggest asset we have, as a university, is a wealth of students who are enthusiastic about making an Oxford education available to all. However, the best way to make sure that we are using this asset is to find a better way of measuring access work, such that we can see what the most effective strategies are. In addition, improving the proportion of students from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds and Free School Meals recipients – along with similar measurements – who go through our access schemes is essential for dealing with the severe lack of representation of these groups ought to be a priority. Less than a quarter of enrolled students in 2012 came from households which earn below the £42600.
I know remember how it felt to be insecure about applying, to worry about fitting in with the “Oxford type” and to be worried about keeping up with life here. I’ve been proven wrong on all counts, bar an essay crisis of two. Because of this, I’m passionate about helping people in the same shoes navigate the maze of applications. I want to help make Oxford a more diverse and reflective institution. The best way to start, is by making sure that the brightest, from all backgrounds are applying to Oxford.
I’m a member of the welfare team in my college and a trained peer supporter, so I get a lot of students coming to me and talking to me about the issues they’re facing. As I have been in this role for a year now, I have talked to a lot of people, and I have started to notice that a lot of the academic issues people experience run along similar lines; people are confused about what their course entails, aren’t sure what resources are available to them, and are feeling a bit lost when trying to deal with their academic affairs. A particular problem for a lot of people is the clarity of the examinations system; for example, only 57% of students feel that exam criteria is clear in advance.
We need to make this system clearer so that everyone feels completely happy with not only how their course works and how it is structured, but also how it will be assessed. A lot of people have also expressed the sentiment to me that they feel unrepresented in their department, and wish there was some way to open up wider communication within their subjects beyond just their colleges.
I think to help people with these issues we need to introduce a feeling of community into academic life; I think it would be great to promote a feeling among students that they are part of a university-wide community in their subject. This would promote inter-collegiate communication amongst students, and widen the network that people have available to them where they can exchange ideas about their course and their work. This would also serve to unite the student voice, which would then enable students to pass information to each other about departmental reps and feedback sessions. If we could unite the student voice, we could also ensure it is heard, and I would seek to make this happen as I think it is vital that students get the chance to offer feedback on their own academic lives.
To improve these things, I would revamp Weblearn, which is inconsistent in the resources it offers and often confusing to the point of exclusion. I would also introduce into it various areas would provide resources and links for students to assist with their academic issues. I would introduce a representation page, which would include details of departmental reps, student society presidents, and head tutors, so that students could be clearer about which people are available to contact in case they have an issue. I would also introduce a welfare area as many welfare issues that students face are linked to their academic life, with information about college peer support networks and links to the counselling service appointment booker and workshop sessions. I would also seek to introduce a student forum area, where students could make links within their course and so develop a wide network of academic help resources.
Essentially, there are some brilliant resources available to students; Weblearn has some great stuff, there are some departmental reps out there doing an amazing job, and there are numerous feedback opportunities available. Unfortunately, these are often unpublicised, unused, or inaccessible, and so I want to promote their visibility and make them more accessible so that students feel empowered to engage with their own education.
Your student union’s Vice President (Access & Academic Affairs) sits on more than a dozen committees in the University, representing students in forums as diverse as the Curators of the Bodleian and the Joint Committee on Sport. It takes up a major chunk of the officer’s time and
requires a lot of work, reading papers and consulting on agenda items. I want to ask: what’s the point?
As Brasenose JCR President, I have represented BNC undergraduates on key college committees for the last year, and I know from experience that being in the room, hearing the arguments, putting your point across in person, is a really effective way to get things done. We won the argument that Brasenose’s Academic Committee should put an end to BNC students having to pay extra course costs for compulsory field trips or placements partly by being in the room to defend my view and partly by getting to know and developing good relationships with the key committee postholders. It is so much harder to win a committee’s support if you aren’t there to defend your ideas. So if the University is going to continue to have committees as its major decision-making structures, we have to care a lot more about who we have defending students in the room.
Now departments and, above departments, the four divisions play a huge role in the University and in the student academic experience: but how many of us know who represents us to the department or the division? You need to know who the person is you can talk to about poor teaching and great teaching, problems with course structure and timings, joint schools challenges, and old favourites like library opening hours; and you need to know that they have the energy, commitment and support to achieve change where it’s needed. OUSU needs to do more. We need to push the University to provide proper support and visibility to our department reps. We should elect them directly so that they have the legitimacy to be a strong voice for students. We have to put academic representation at the centre of vigorous activity in departments, which should include active access reps, welfare support, social activities and frequent and constructive academic feedback sessions on departmental teaching. I also think departments
could be great places to develop better links between Oxford undergraduates and grad students which could benefit both: grads could be mentors to undergrads while developing their own teaching
and pastoral skills to help them get academic jobs later.
Put simply, bringing Oxford students together in departments to represent themselves and make their academic experience better is a key way in which we’re uniting Oxford.
I was born in China, but my parents and I moved to Germany when I was eight. I didn’t speak any German in the beginning, so the language barrier and all the cultural differences were especially present for me back then, who just wanted to make new friends. Moving to Oxford was yet again another change, and adapting to a new life, the first time on my own, had its challenges, but was just as exciting. Having experienced how difficult it can be to adapt to a new language, new culture, and new food (yes, especially the food!), I wanted to share my experience with other students to help them face this challenge and use this opportunity to its fullest by broadening one’s horizon and meeting new people from all over the world.
This is why I became the International Representative of my college. And I realized how difficult it was to encourage international students to participate in JCR events, and to encourage British students to engage in international students’ activities. Wanting to know more about the general situation of international students in Oxford, I decided to become Co-chair of the International Students’ Campaign. With the campaign it was possible to reach students all over Oxford and to bring them together across colleges. One of the biggest successes was the International Festival at the Examination School with over 1400 visitors.
Beside the cultural side, I had the opportunity to get more involved with university and government policies concerning international students. Being on the campaign, I learned about the problems of international students with the UK boarder agency and possibly upcoming NHS fees, which affect a third of our student body. I believe the cultural diversity is an indispensable part to our university, educating us all and opening our minds; likewise the international resources are substantial to the university, both intellectual and financial, and we should oppose anything that worsens conditions for international students to study at Oxford.
For these reasons, I want to run for the International Students Officer. I will continue to work closely with the International Students’ Campaign as well as with the Graduate International Officer, raising more awareness of issues concerning international students and campaign against regressive regulations. I know that I still have a lot to learn: as I am EU citizen, I do not yet know all the problems involved with getting a Visa, and as I am an undergraduate, I do not yet know all the difficulties graduate students are facing- but I will know in the future, because I am concerned with these problems; and as the International Students Officer, I will confront these problems and search for solutions- with your help. Together, we can make the difference.