Oxford University

UNIQ schools initiative opens Oxford’s doors

Photos by John Cairns

The Helsington Foundation has generously supported the highly successful UNIQ summer schools and teachers’ initiatives at Oxford, which launched in 2009. These activities aim to demystify the University and attract applications from outstanding state-school students.

While the summer schools achieve this through providing first-hand experience of academic life at the University, the teachers’ initiatives programme is designed to guide teachers through the process of preparing their students to make informed applications to Oxford.

An intense week

The summer schools bring young people from all over the country to Oxford for a five-day residential to learn more about what it’s like to be an Oxford undergraduate. They attend lectures, try their hand at writing essays and attending tutorials, and also experience the social life.
This gives them a chance to figure out if Oxford is for them, and it is often intense and challenging, as Jacob Morgan (pictured), who came to UNIQ in 2011, explains: ‘It was great, but at the same time a bit of a shock to the system, with lots of work to do. But there was a good community feeling: we were struggling together, puzzling our way through it, with the mentors reassuring us along the way.’

The Impact of UNIQ


of UNIQ participants went on to apply to Oxford


of these were successful in securing a conditional offer

of all applicants were successful in securing a conditional offer


Giving students confidence

Jacob, from Leeds, is now a third-year earth sciences student at University College. He feels that though UNIQ was demanding, it certainly convinced him to apply to Oxford. ‘It gave me a taste of university life and showed me that I would really enjoy it,’ he says. Like all students at UNIQ, Jacob watched a mock Oxford interview, which made him more confident. ‘It definitely removed the element of fear,’ he adds.

His experience at UNIQ was so positive he jumped at the chance to be one of the academic mentors at the summer schools after his first year: ‘I wanted to have that experience of helping other people to see if they wanted to apply to Oxford when perhaps they were less confident or didn’t know if they wanted to.’

Involving teachers

Increasing access to Oxford is also about working with teachers. Through the teachers’ initiatives, Oxford gives them the tools to encourage their brightest students to apply successfully to Oxford. This is done through activities such as regional conferences, to which all state schools in the country are invited, and events aimed specifically at newly qualified teachers. The impact is visible on students like Lily Goodyer Sait, from Sir John Leman High School, who is now studying at Oxford and nominated her teacher Mary Bradford for the Oxford University Inspirational Teachers’ Award. ‘She constantly spurred me on to realise that my dream to go to Oxford was not just a hopeful wish but an achievable goal,’ she says.

What the UNIQ students say...

  • ‘I’ve learnt I can do a lot more than I thought I could. I was surprised by how far I could push myself, even when I thought I was stuck and couldn’t do any more.’

    Luke, 17, from South Wales, Maths course

  • ‘Being here has galvanised my decision to study at Oxford. I really thrive on the discussion-based seminars and the tutorials – I think it’s wonderful! And the lecturers impart a great enthusiasm for the subject – they sort of bounce around!’

    Arianna, 17, from Margate,
    Archaeology and Ancient History course

  • ‘The main thing I’ve learnt from being here is that I can apply and get into Oxford. They don’t expect you to be superhuman!’

    Kirstie, 17, from Essex, Law course

As we come to the end of funding by the Helsington Foundation, we hope that others will wish to support such an extensive and far-reaching range of initiatives, which have enabled over 3,700 state-school students to explore what life as an Oxford undergraduate is like, and over 3,300 schoolteachers to connect with the University.

Support our Widening Access initiatives