Following the Principal’s profile in The Sunday Times, Senior Tutor Lucinda Rumsey comments in more detail on Mansfield admissions and social mobility:

Our Principal Helen Mountfield  was profiled in the Sunday Times this week and she talked about Mansfield admissions (and Oxford University admissions, and social mobility more broadly). It was great to see supportive comments from so many people who care about this issue.

I thought I’d write to say some of the things a short press article can’t say, for those of you who followed reading that article by looking at our website. Welcome.

I want to focus on one strand of criticism in the public conversation about Oxford admissions: that the conversation about social mobility needs to move beyond state sector versus independent sector success rates. That is a good criticism, and it is the one I will explore in relation to Mansfield’s current set of admissions figures.

Mansfield’s undergraduate intake has been over 80% state sector for the past ten years, and over 90% state since 2016, but we all know that most UK schools and colleges are state sector, and that the term covers a huge variety of  institutions, from those with dozens of candidates applying successfully every year to Oxford, to those who have never had a single applicant. So we have to break that down a bit. Using the example of Mansfield’s admissions figures this year, I’ll give some examples of how Mansfield admissions is successful at widening participation in Oxford, and increasing social mobility.

In Mansfield undergraduate admissions this year 90.6% of offer holders are from state schools. 

92.9% of our offer holders sat their GCSEs at state schools.

90.9% of our state school offer holders are from non-selective state schools or colleges.

We know that where you are educated is important, but so is where you live. Students in some regions in the UK underachieve at A Level, so it is good to see students from those regions who are achieving highly getting a place. Some of those under-represented regions are over-represented among Mansfield’s offer holders; e.g. 5.9% of our UK offer holders are from Wales, compared to 3.4% of students achieving AAA or better in their A Levels, and 2.8% of UK Oxford students admitted between 2016-2018. These numbers are small but the movement is positive.

Students who come from areas of low progression to higher education are likely to find it harder to apply successfully to Oxford. They may have fewer role models to encourage aspiration to higher education, or their teachers may have less time and experience to offer for giving application support. This measure is called ‘POLAR’ (which stands for Participation of Local Areas) and divides the country into quintiles of progression to higher education. At Mansfield this year 24.4% of our offer holders are from areas of low progression to higher education (POLAR4 quintiles 1+2), compared to 13.3% of students achieving AAA or better in their A Levels, and 13.1% of Oxford students admitted in 2018.

As well as rates of progression to higher education, we also look at areas of socio-economic advantage and disadvantage (a measure called ACORN).  20.2% of our offer holders are from the most disadvantaged postcodes, compared to 10.8% of students achieving AAA or better nationally, and 11.3% of Oxford students admitted in 2018.

40.7% of our offer holders are from the most disadvantaged educational and socio-economic backgrounds, compared to 15% of the Oxford applicant pool.

We can’t give you figures on the BAME representation among our offer holders this year yet, as the university doesn’t receive that information until later in the year, but  last year 31.1% of our students identified as Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic, including 25.4% of our UK students. To provide a context for these figures, 20.6% of students nationally who achieve AAA or better in their A levels  identify as BAME, as do 18.3% of Oxford students admitted in 2018.

Only 26.7% of Mansfield offers are made to candidates from the most advantaged backgrounds in society, compared to 60% of Oxford applicants. This is my last statistic and an interesting one for Oxford as a whole. So I am going to end by turning to the bigger picture.

The national University regulator, the Office for Students,  is asking all universities to increase their proportion of students from backgrounds of disadvantage. For a long time at Oxford, the overall success rate for students from the most advantaged backgrounds has been much, much higher than for the least advantaged. This gap cannot be explained away by saying that the average grades of the least privileged are lower than the most privileged. That may be the average case, but the candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds under Oxford’s consideration are the highest performing, and in every way they are as good as their more privileged peers: the same grades, the same or better potential. We see in the statistics from previous years that many such candidates applied to Oxford, were not offered a place, but then went on to meet, or exceed, the standard offer grades at A level.   

What Oxford has done to start to close that gap is to use the information it has to take a nuanced and informed approach to assessing future potential.  To decide which disadvantaged candidates to take, and which highly advantaged candidates not to take, academic ability and potential is contextualized. If a candidate’s performance is average or below average for their context, they score less highly and are less likely to get a place than candidates who perform above average for their context.   

This works. After a year of developing more nuanced measures for assessing disadvantage, and setting up the Oxford Opportunity programme of pre-course support for students from the least advantaged groups (based on the programme devised and trialed at University College), Oxford University’s proportion of offers to students from less advantaged backgrounds has gone up significantly, and with it the proportion of state sector students has risen to 69% across the University.

Mansfield is proud of having participated in the development of more nuanced approaches to use of contextual data in assessing potential, and of being a college which regularly surpasses all the targets set for widening participation and increasing social mobility.  But as the recent University-wide work on contextualised data and Opportunity Oxford demonstrate, Mansfield doesn’t exist in a vacuum or do it alone. Outreach and admissions at Oxford University is a huge collaborative exercise between colleges, departments and the University Admissions Office; we rely on the work, the care and the goodwill of colleagues, and it benefits us all.


Luncinda Rumsey 

Senior Tutor, Mansfield College