Breaking down barriers: Improving Access to Oxbridge through Student Collaboration
Image by Alfonso Cerezo from Pixabay

I am now in my second year at the University of Cambridge. But for the girl who arrived at the train station on the 5th December 2018, anxiously awaiting her interview, Cambridge couldn’t have felt further away. Were the interviewers antiquated fossils with an anti jeans agenda? Hands – to shake or not to shake? Could they smell fear? At every stage of my application, I felt a little like Alice, tumbling down an unknown rabbit hole, and my interview was no exception. I lacked information and in turn, lacked confidence. This is not an isolated experience, but one faced by many state school applicants. 

Privately educated students might expect to receive weekly Oxbridge classes and multiple mock interviews. State school pupils are often, at best, left with teachers who want to help but don’t know how, or who at worst, actively discourage their application. With lack of preparation leading to an information and confidence gap for many state school pupils, it is unsurprising that in the 2019 admissions cycle, Eton, Westminster and St Paul’s each sent more students to Oxbridge than the entire Scottish state sector. 

It’s no secret that the student landscape at Oxford and Cambridge needs to become more educationally diverse. The most recent Cambridge University Access and Participation Plan states its commitment to “achieving an intake that is reflective of UK society” and the Oxford Strategic Plan for Access echoes this, outlining its intention to “attract and admit students from all backgrounds”. The need for diversification within the Oxbridge undergraduate intake has been acknowledged, but how can this demographic gap be closed in practice? 

2 current Oxbridge students believe they have the answer. Over lockdown, Kavi Mehan (St John’s College, Cambridge) and Vikram Mitra (Brasenose College, Oxford) decided that having successfully navigated the Oxbridge admissions process themselves, they were uniquely positioned to supercharge the confidence of sixth form students, considering or making Oxbridge applications. And so, The Oxbridge Launchpad was born. Combining an information hub, academic articles written by current Oxbridge students and a 1 -1 mentoring scheme, the aim of The Launchpad, as outlined by co – founder Kavi, is to “help those students who need it most, improving access to Oxbridge and in turn, the diversity of its student landscape”. 

The Launchpad’s focus on closing the confidence gap surrounding Oxbridge admissions seems to be striking a chord with sixth form students – a recent workshop attendee commented that it was “completely different to anything she’d attended before” and addressed “elements of the applications process that she finds the scariest”. 

Seeking to grow their profile in the student landscape and expand their mentoring scheme, The Launchpad recently recruited a new committee, drawn from current Oxbridge undergraduates. Having benefited from an Assisted Place to attend a high achieving local private school, new HR director for Cambridge, Patrick Edwards has been motivated by “first-hand experience of the immense impact that access programmes can have on the lives of those from less privileged backgrounds”. With Patrick, alongside the wider committee confirming 300 mentor/mentee sign-ups for 2021, Kavi and Vik’s lockdown ambition “to turn Oxbridge dreams into a reality”, is being realised. 

Despite the work of student led organisations such as The Oxbridge Launchpad, the challenge of state school access to higher education remains significant.  Some might argue that the responsibility of redressing the demographic gap in Oxbridge admissions lies solely with the university. I believe that as once nervous candidates, now turned students, we can all play a part in ensuring that our undergraduate population is truly educationally representative. Whether signing up to produce content for their academic enrichment blog: The Oxbridge Intelligence or volunteering to mentor a sixth former, the Oxbridge Launchpad, one of a number of student-run initiatives, offers practical opportunities to affect real change.

Follow them on Instagram @oxbridge_launchpad or check out their website https://www.oxbridgelaunchpad.com/ to find out how you can get involved.