Interested in who studies geography at Oxford and how this is changing?
The University of Oxford’s annual admissions statistical report crunches the numbers on undergraduate admissions.
Data is aggregated across three years to determine the amount of progress made on the university’s aim to widen access and the raw proportions of students from different backgrounds.
With much of the data grouped by subject, we at the geography society wished to examine how geography stood up against the university average and, perhaps more importantly, whether the rates of admissions to study geography at the University of Oxford were acceptable compared to population data.
As reflected in the foreword of this year’s report, progress continues to be made in widening the range of backgrounds that Oxford’s talented cohorts of students are admitted from. Thanks to many actors, such as those supporting Opportunity Oxford, a programme that I personally benefited from, progress is certainly being made across the university. However, this has not been proportionally felt across all courses, with geography significantly behind. I was hopeful that I may be able to offer some light and shade. However, upon analysis of geography specific data, I feel that there is little to be satisfied with.
Whilst we continue to have above average state school representation, I feel as though this has become a crutch to lean on, taking the weight off the shameful burden of poor admission rates from those from socio-economically deprived areas and BME (particularly Black African and Black Caribbean heritage) backgrounds. Rather than relying on the idea that state school representation is the ultimate move away from the stereotypes of Oxford and Geography, we must take action to encourage applications from students from underrepresented backgrounds on the course. The outreach programmes lead by of the School of Geography and the Environment must continue to demonstrate the merit of a geography degree, with extra work being put in to ensure that those underrepresented within the department are specifically targeted.
There is also room for improvement in the categories used in the report. Whilst I welcome the increased nuance in categorisation of gender, with the inclusion of genders ‘other’ than male or female, and the further breakdown of the rather broad category of UK Asian students to examine progress in the admission of students from Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds, it is imperative that this nuance is extended. This should be both in further breaking down broad categories, such as that of mixed heritage students, and to aggregate all data by course. This would allow departments, such as the school of geography and the environment, to target outreach programmes more accurately. Whilst commenting on such intricacies of the report may seem trivial, I believe that reframing such reports can make a difference in assessing the amount of progress made, encouraging us to push for a more diverse cohort in future.
Geography is for anyone who wants to learn more about the world we live in, and anyone who has considered applying should not have to feel discouraged by a lack of diversity. I hope that more progress is made, and as the current access officer, I will continue to work towards this, alongside current and prospective students, and the department.
Note from our Access Officer
Note from our President
It is heartwarming to see that Geography continues to admit a larger proportion of state school students than the average of Oxford’s most popular courses. This is testament to the good work done by the previous committee to widen access to a Geography education in Oxford. However, the results from this year’s report are otherwise dismal, indicating lapses in the admissions of students from disadvantaged and BAME backgrounds.
As a BAME student myself, I am aware of the hurdles non-White and International students have to silently climb to access prestigious institutions like Oxford. Many of these include a lack of informal networks in higher education, language barriers especially for students from migrant families, unfamiliarity with the admissions process and a lack of BAME representation within the department and colleges. This needs to change. Geography is a discipline that prides itself on being progressive, inclusive and change-making, especially with championing marginalised voices. It is thus critical that elevating the perspectives of BAME staff and students in Geography becomes a new focus of access efforts. I, and our Access Officer, Daisy, are working hard to illuminate this through upcoming outreach initiatives. In the upcoming Alternative Prospectus and OUGS podcast, we have included resources tailored to students from BAME backgrounds, as well as ensured that the perspectives and stories of BAME geographers are shared.
Moreover, we continue to work closely with the department to increase access to socio-economically disadvantaged students. Our committee members have been involved in volunteer-led school tours, alumni sharings in state schools and admissions help opportunity programmes. While I am pleased that access work has consistently been done in this area for the past few years, it is important that we do not stop talking about such efforts. This is so that high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds are continually reminded of the resources available to them and encouraged to apply to Oxford.
While the results of this year’s report fell short of expectations, I am confident that OUGS is on the right track to increase long-term access to Geography in Oxford, through its resource-building, inclusion and outreach efforts. Daisy and I have communicated closely with the department on our access needs and are excited to launch a new belt of initiatives this coming academic year, which strives to improve Geography’s admission statistics.