Jesus College runs a wide-reaching Access & Outreach programme for school students that engages over nine-thousand young people every year - many of whom come from our link regions of Wales and South London. The programme is led by Dr Matthew Williams, our Access Fellow and Tutor in Politics. He describes an average day in his working life while in lockdown.
We have been more, rather than less, busy with access work as a result of lockdown. Notably, my colleague Shelley Knowles and I were asked by the Welsh Government to put on an extra three-week summer school for one hundred Welsh state school students as well as the three summer schools we had already planned. We work in partnership with the Seren Network, which supports Wales’ brightest year 8-13 students from state schools and FE colleges, and links Welsh high achievers to leading universities, and the annual summer schools we collaborate on are a highlight of the access programme.
We have also recently taken on responsibility for access work across the entirety of Wales (before it was just South Wales) on behalf of the University. This means getting to know new regions, and building connections with new schools, teachers and students to understand how best we can support them. We are a small team and there’s lots to do, but we make it work.
So why is access and outreach so important to Jesus College? Well, we want to attract and select the very best applicants based on their academic potential, not their socio-economic status, ethnicity, religion, school-type or other non-academic related characteristic. Oxford’s world-class education should be available for everyone with the academic ability and potential to benefit from it. Ours is a shared community, a fellowship and a collective of scholars. Anyone can be a part of that community; it doesn't matter what background you have. However, we recognise that there is still much work to be done to make this a reality for all prospective students in the UK and so we offer and support an extensive range of school visits, outreach programmes and activities for prospective students from non-selective State schools and under-represented groups within our link regions.
By changing perceptions and dispelling myths, we can motivate young people to achieve their best academically and enjoy the fulfilling experience of an Oxford education.
As such, a typical day involves organising academics and students to deliver access events online. These include lectures, seminars, tutorials, virtual museum tours, virtual university tours, question and answer sessions, application support, and much besides! I have also been delivering far more content myself, across a much broader geographic area, than would usually be possible.
Access Team 2018/19 stats:
173 in-bound and out-bound access events
84% of young people at 2019 summer schools came from our link regions
9000+ prospective students
68% from the most disadvantaged backgrounds
One of the blessings in disguise of the pandemic is that I’ve ‘visited’ many of the more remote parts of Wales that are usually difficult to reach. For instance, I have been digitally beamed to the island of Anglesey, the Ceredigion coast and the Rhondda valleys, all within 24 hours. And I'm able to go to all of these places, then pop downstairs to spend some time with my newborn son. There’s definitely been some positives to the new normal!
Time-wise, I try to keep to office hours, but the sheer amount of work on has meant ploughing through weekends without having a day off in months. It has been fairly exhausting, but I am terrified of how far educational inequalities may widen as a result of school closures, and we as an educational pioneer of four-and-a-half centuries’ standing must do our bit, however modest that may turn out to be.
Learn more about our Access & Outreach programme here