Oxford models TCD’s access programme to recruit disadvantaged students

UK university’s Irish-born vice-chancellor plans to tackle elitism through new scheme

An Oxford University college is piloting a scheme to recruit students from disadvantaged backgrounds based on an access programmed developed by Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

The move follows a drive by Oxford University's new Irish-born vice-chancellor, Louise Richardson, for the UK university to tackle elitism by showing more generosity in trying to ensure that children with the greatest potential have the chance to study at the university.

Lady Margaret Hall, a constituent college of Oxford University, is launching a four year pilot offering a foundation year to students from under-represented backgrounds.

If successful, these foundation-year students will be admitted by the college to take a three-year undergraduate honours degree at Oxford University.


It is offering the scheme in association with TCD, which has operated a similar admissions programme for more than 15 years.

TCD started the scheme to attract more candidates from under-represented backgrounds.

More than 90 per cent of young people who complete TCD’s access programme go on to take a degree at the university.

Data shows that once they start on the access programme undergraduate course, TCD undergraduates perform as well as any other student.

In a statement, Ms Richardson - a former TCD graduate - said Oxford University was committed to recruiting the best and brightest students whatever their background.

“One of the many advantages of the collegiate system is that it allows us to engage in small scale experiments like this to help us identify innovative ways to recruit under-represented groups. I wish the programme at Lady Margaret Hall every success,” she said.

Patrick Prendergast, provost of TCD, said the university was delighted to be associated with the programme.

He said TCD has had great success with its foundation year, with the vast majority going on to complete their course successfully and progress to degree courses across the university.

“Their degree outcomes have been impressive and they have made a real contribution to the social and cultural environment of Trinity,” he said.

“Indeed, our current students’ union president [Lynn Ruane] entered the university after completing our foundation year. We congratulate Lady Margaret Hall on this progressive initiative and we look forward to contributing to its success.”

The scheme is headed by former Guardian editor Alan Rushbridger who said the idea stemmed from a visit to TCD last December.

"Like many good ideas, this one started in a pub – a Dublin bar," he wrote, in a blog post for Times Higher Education.

“There are groups of young people today who are markedly under-represented at Oxford, even if it is not quite right to call them ‘excluded’.

“They are as bright, resourceful and determined as anyone who has succeeded in getting here, but many things may have conspired to stop them even considering Oxford as an option.”

The pilot project is being funded by a number of former students of St Margaret’s Hall, including Michael O’Sullivan, the president of a US American clothing company, and from a second generation Irish migrant background.

Tom Boland, chief executive officer of the Higher Education Authority, said he warmly welcomes the collaboration between TCD and Oxford University as a unique opportunity for the sharing of good practice between Ireland and the UK.

“Overcoming financial, cultural and other barriers was crucially important if people from disadvantaged communities are to access and succeed in university,” he said.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent