The university’s league table ascent follows the global recognition of its groundbreaking work on the Covid-19 vaccine in partnership with AstraZeneca. Oxford was our University of the Year in 2021 as a result of its outstanding record during the crisis, and reached the shortlist in 2022.
Aside from the standard teaching through seminars, lectures, practical and fieldwork, it is the tutorial system that sets Oxford and Cambridge apart. At weekly tutorials groups of two or three students discuss ideas in depth with their tutor. In the present academic year, such personalised learning with individual attention from academic experts is taking place in person again.
However, Oxford’s boycott of the National Student Survey means that student satisfaction with teaching quality or the wider undergraduate experience cannot be included in our analysis.
Exceptional facilities are a big selling point for undergraduates — and they keep getting better. The Biochemistry Building’s completion in 2021 added swathes of laboratory space and facilities to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration. Since then, the Institute of Developmental and Regenerative Medicine on the university’s Old Road campus has opened, housing about 240 scientists. A Centre for the Humanities is in development and due to open in 2025 in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter. It will add teaching, research and public engagement spaces including a theatre and 500-seat concert hall.
Oxford’s strategic partnership with Legal & General (L&G) will provide up to £4 billion of funding over ten years to create world-class science and innovation districts at Begbroke and Osney Mead. Under the joint venture, work continues on Oxford’s biggest construction project yet, the Life and Mind Building for psychological and life sciences, due to open in 2024. The L&G link is also set to produce 1,000 new subsidised homes for staff and 1,000 new units for graduates.
Oxford has a gold rating in the Teaching Excellence Framework and achieved another stellar set of results in the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021) to claim fourth place in our research quality index. Ninety-one per cent of the work submitted from Oxford was assessed as world-leading, the top category. It is an improvement on its equivalent results in the previous national assessment in 2014 (87 per cent), yet Oxford falls one place in our research rankings against even bigger gains at peer universities.
How to get into Oxford remains a hot topic. The university sits only one place from the bottom of our social inclusion index despite efforts to widen participation. Many independent schools have reported dwindling numbers gaining Oxbridge places as the country’s leading universities make good on their commitments to increase admissions from underrepresented groups.
In 2021 68.2 per cent of Oxford entrants arrived from state schools overall (including grammars) — slightly down on 68.6 per cent in 2020 but up from 58.2 per cent in 2017. However, our social inclusion figures count only admissions from non-selective state schools (52.2 per cent). It is a huge leap from 45.6 per cent in 2021 and an even greater improvement from 39.4 per cent in our first social inclusion index, published in 2018.
Oxford is making ground in other aspects of social inclusion. The proportion of first-generation students has risen from 14.8 per cent to 16.3 per cent year-on-year and Oxford’s proportion of students from ethnic minorities (23.7 per cent) is in the upper half among English and Welsh universities. Oxford’s efforts to reduce its black attainment gap put it in the top 20. The proportion of students from low-participation areas has gone from 4.2 per cent in 2021 to 6.4 per cent in 2022, in 93rd place.
Oxford’s latest programme to improve opportunities for talented students from all backgrounds is the Astrophoria Foundation Year. From October 2023, the fully funded subject-specific course will accept up to 50 UK state school students with high academic potential who have experienced severe personal disadvantage or disrupted education. There were 225 places available on the new Opportunity Oxford bridging programme in 2022, an academic residential course designed to help prepare UK students from underrepresented groups who were holding an offer from Oxford to hit the ground running at university.
Oxford’s financial support is among the most generous in UK higher education for students from poorer backgrounds. About a quarter of all students receive some non-repayable bursary support, with those from families with household income of less than £27,500 per year receiving Crankstart bursaries of £5,000 a year.
Selection is in the hands of more than 30 undergraduate colleges, which vary considerably in their atmosphere and student mix.
Weighing up the colleges’ academic strengths and social vibe is essential for applicants hoping to give themselves the best chance of winning a place and finding an environment where they can thrive. Most colleges offer accommodation for undergraduates for at least two of their three years at Oxford.
Applicants can make an open application but express a college preference. Picking a college is especially important for arts and social science students, whose tuition is based in-college. Science and technology subjects are mainly taught in central facilities.
There are written admissions tests for certain subjects and interviews for all shortlisted candidates. Applicants may be asked to submit samples of work. Some courses now demand two A* grades and another A at A-level, but many still require just one A* and two A grades or equivalent, because Oxford places huge trust in its testing and interviewing process in identifying students most likely to succeed.
One prize at the end of an Oxford degree is fine job prospects: Oxford is fourth in our analysis of the latest Graduate Outcomes survey, recording how many students have found highly skilled work or returned to study 15 months later.
Oxford has fallen two places year-on-year to be listed fourth in the 2023 QS World University Rankings, relinquishing the honour of being Britain’s highest-ranked university to Cambridge, which is second.
Only eight weeks long, terms are intensive. Students rise to the challenge and pack plenty in, helped by high-class sports facilities at collegiate and university level. The Iffley Road sports complex (where Sir Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile, in 1954) has a new gym and sports hall. Student-centric nightlife in town and active JCRs (junior common rooms) provide much of the entertainment.