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18th January 2021 Stephanie Hale, Access and Outreach Officer

Exeter’s outreach strategy gains momentum

Exeter remains as committed as ever to improving Access and Outreach, despite the challenges the coronavirus pandemic has created. Stephanie Hale, Access and Outreach Officer, reports on some of the steps Exeter is taking to encourage applications from the very best candidates, irrespective of background.

It has been many months since our last in-person outreach session, which took place on 12 March 2020. Despite the disruptions we have faced during the current pandemic, our outreach calendar is as busy as ever. We have moved all of our outreach provision online, and the College is making good progress in the fulfilment of its Access and Outreach aims.

New developments include the formation of the ‘South West Consortium’, a joint outreach venture between Exeter, Lady Margaret Hall, and Merton College. The colleges will work together to support the Bristol area, and a new ‘Oxford for South West’ website will launch later in the year. As part of this new approach to our South West link areas, Exeter is now working with North Somerset, in addition to our established links with the local authority areas of Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Plymouth, and Torbay. Schools in these areas can book onto online sessions for the duration of this pandemic, and we hope to return to in-person outreach very soon.

During the first nationwide lockdown, and throughout the summer months, the College considered new ways to interact with pupils. We wanted to find meaningful ways to engage with prospective applicants, whilst helping them to develop important academic skills. In pursuit of this aim, we launched our first ever essay competition, which was open to UK-domiciled pupils from years 10, 11, and 12 (and their equivalents in the devolved areas). Pupils were asked to identify a key issue in a subject of their choice, analyse that issue and offer a potential solution. Many entrants were delighted that this allowed them to research any topic they found interesting, and the level of engagement from schools across the UK exceeded all expectations. The winning titles were:

  • Institutional racism towards the black community within the British police force
  • Addressing the issues with the operations of modern firms
  • Are you morally justified in permitting the suicide of an immoral man?
  • Cancer: What Next?

Highly Commended titles included: Are ACE Inhibitors and ARBs still safe to use in the current pandemic?, Why is the recidivism rate so high in the UK, and how can it be lowered?, and The problems of Generation Z.

This competition is set to become a regular feature in our outreach provision. We recently launched a winter essay competition for UK-domiciled pupils in years 10 and 11 (and their equivalents), and our summer competition will now be open to year 12 pupils only. You can find out more at www.exeter.ox.ac.uk/essay-comp.

Exeter Plus, a residential ‘bridging programme’ for incoming first year undergraduates, launched in September following a successful pilot in 2019. There were 17 participants on the 2020 two-week residential, which we were able to host in-person (with social distancing). The participants attended insightful study skills sessions with Professor Conall Mac Niocaill, Tutor for Admissions, as well as Graduate Mentoring Sessions delivered by Exonian Graduates from a wide range of disciplines. Tim Ecott, Royal Literary Society Fellow, was also on-hand to help participants to develop their essay writing skills. This is an important programme in any year, and especially so in this turbulent year.

While this year has seen many changes to the way we operate, I am pleased that some things have remained the same. The College’s link with OUS Cornwall, for example, remains strong. The support of its members is invaluable, and their contribution to Access and Outreach in Cornwall is significant and highly effective. I look forward to working closely with the group again in the coming year, and strengthening the College’s relationship with Cornish schools. Exeter’s engagement with Target Oxbridge, an access programme for black students and students of mixed race with black heritage, will also continue to strengthen in the year ahead. Thanks to generous alumni support, the College will support a total of seven Target Oxbridge participants in academic year 2020-21.

Many changes to Oxford’s application process have been necessary this year, and our applicants are facing new challenges as a consequence of present circumstances. Exeter remains committed to supporting its applicants, and schools across our link regions have already participated in online workshops on Personal Statements and Admissions Tests. We also ran Interview Workshops during Michaelmas Term, ahead of a very successful online interview process for prospective students. The central University team contributed new video guides, which applicants were able to use to get important updates and support during the application process. It has been inspiring to see the positive outlook of so many applicants who are facin

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