Universities are under increasing pressure to be more diverse and inclusive, especially in elite institutions with a poor history of attracting students from underrepresented backgrounds.
In the UK, universities such as Oxford and Cambridge have often been criticised for their lack of diversity, with strikingly low intakes of underprivileged or students of colour.
A study has also found that students from independent schools are seven times more likely to get into Oxbridge.
Various initiatives have since seen the light of day as a result of these revelations.
For instance, UK rapper Stormzy has pledged to fund the tuition fees and living costs of two students each year via the Stormzy Scholarship; Oxford has pledged to be more socially inclusive by 2023.
While laudable, these efforts have had little, large-scale impact on attracting diverse student enrolment.
A helping hand to get underprivileged students into elite universities
If someone helps you out or gives you a leg up remember to pay it forward like this chap. BBC News – How I help people get into the top universities https://t.co/8s70vN8mZL
— Emma Ruminski (@Emma_Ruminski) February 11, 2020
Believing that more underprivileged youth could enrol in Britain’s top universities if they knew more about its admissions systems, Joe Seddon set up Access Oxbridge – a free online mentoring scheme – using £200 (≈US$261 at the time of writing) saved from his maintenance loan.
The platform gives state school students one-to-one support to win places at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
The 22-year-old set up the app at his parents’ kitchen table in Morley, West Yorkshire, in 2018 after graduating from Oxford.
According to The Times, he has helped to secure 60 offers from Oxbridge for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
He did this by persuading students at Oxbridge to mentor the applicants on how to hone their UCAS personal statement, prepare for entrance exams and the challenging university interviews.
Students also mentor Year 12 pupils on their chosen subjects, especially on the type of extra reading and thinking beyond the syllabus that is expected at Oxbridge.
The mentoring sessions take place in hour-long, one-to-one video calls via the app once a week.
Drawing from humble beginnings
Speaking to the BBC, Seddon said: “I knew how difficult it was for me to get to Oxford coming from a single-parent family going to a state school. I just wanted to help more people like me.”
There are three parts to the application process, but most people concentrate on the interview, he said.
“It can seem incredibly scary going down to Oxford or Cambridge for the first time and being quizzed by a bunch of academics,” he was quoted saying, adding that he wished he had someone to help him through the application process.
“I remember getting into my first interview and I was shaking I was that scared, but I just wish I’d had a little bit more preparation beforehand because I feel if I had been prepared it would have just seemed like another day in the office.”
Seddon asserted that Access Oxbridge isn’t about cheating the system, but merely about getting students prepared and comfortable with the environment they’re about to go into.
“It’s the sort of preparation that students who attend private schools and top state schools get,” he said.