A thousand fewer UK students attend Oxbridge than a decade ago

The statistics reveal Oxbridge’s failure to add more places despite rising demand from international applicants


In an interesting caveat to the perpetual debate over access to Oxbridge, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has found that there are currently around 1,200 fewer UK-born students at Oxbridge compared to a decade ago.

In the academic year 2017-8, there were 720 fewer UK undergraduates at Oxford and 480 fewer at Cambridge relative to 2007-8. Correspondingly, the proportion of overseas undergraduate students has risen by 51 per cent at Oxford and 65 per cent at Cambridge; in Cambridge's postgraduate courses, there are now more international than domestic students.

Openness to the international community is one of Oxbridge's greatest assets, yet the fact that the figures reflect decreasing accessibility for UK-born disadvantaged, BME and white working class applicants presents a problem for the universities.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institution, said the reduction in the UK student body was the 'inevitable consequence' of the universities' failure to expand the number of places available despite increasing admission of international students.

In a world of globalised education, 'something has to give and it appears to be places for home students'. Fundamentally, more talent requires more places to accommodate for it.

Hillman stated that if Oxbridge hope to reverse this trend, they need to 'bite the bullet and accept more expansion'. Thus, the revelations bring to light a different means by which Oxbridge might widen their accessibility.

Indeed, the necessity for Oxbridge to act upon these statistics is particularly pertinent given other universities' proactive response to increasing demand for places from across the globe. HESA figures show that, since 2007-8, UCL has expanded its student intake by 65% and Exeter by 74%. The lack of any similar change at either Oxford or Cambridge does not reflect well upon the universities' intentions to become less socially exclusive.

At the crux of the issue is the fact that widening Oxbridge's access socially will require a greater number of spaces available.