This Sutton Trust research brief looks at undergraduate admissions to Oxford and Cambridge, particularly from a widening participation perspective. The report finds that the application processes both universities go through to select their undergraduates can differ significantly from college to college. At the moment, tests vary by college at Cambridge – where many subjects have different tests at different colleges – and by subject at Oxford; Oxbridge Admissions identifies almost 400 different possible tests beyond A levels that prospective students could have to take.
Both universities have seen increases in the proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds over recent years, but there is still a significant way to go before access is equitable for all.
- Oxford and Cambridge should each standardise their admissions processes across subjects and colleges as much as practically possible, to help students and teachers who are unfamiliar with the process
- The restriction that students are only allowed to apply to either Oxford or Cambridge universities should be reviewed, and further information on the access implications gathered
- Both universities should review their approaches to any additional exams applicants are required to sit and their approaches to interviews, to ensure they are as fair, consistent and transparent as possible
- Both universities should review their use of contextual admissions
- All universities, including Oxford and Cambridge and their constituent colleges, should more rigorously evaluate their outreach activities using comparison and control groups. The Government should support the scale-up of those outreach projects that have robust evidence of impact
- The universities, and the individual colleges, should do more to publicise clearly the generous amount of financial support available before students apply, to applicants and their schools
- Both universities should provide travel passes to applicants from non-privileged homes
- The government should strengthen the national careers service, ensuring that schools and colleges have access to registered professional advisers with specialist and up-to-date knowledge of entry requirements to elite universities