Meet The Oxbridge Launchpad, the student team improving access for Oxford and Cambridge applicants

The initiative offering Cambridge applicants the advice we wish we all had

When the pandemic hit last year, existing inaccessibility within the education system became more obvious than ever. With many students forced to study in crowded working environments, or struggling to access the technology they needed for online learning – and the government’s poor handling of A-Level results in the summer only making matters worse – the substantial level of change needed to reduce the disadvantages students often face in the course of their education was continually highlighted.

Noticing these difficulties that students across the country were facing, best friends Kavi (studying Geography at Cambridge) and Vik (studying Medicine at Oxford), came together to use their experience to tackle such education inequality at Oxford and Cambridge.

So, after some planning over the summer, The Oxbridge Launchpad was born, with the aim of working to challenge the “systematic under representation” of students from disadvantaged socioeconomic and ethnic minority backgrounds at Cambridge and Oxford.

The Tab Cambridge spoke to Kavi and Vik about their perspective on current Oxbridge access initiatives, the support they provide to prospective applicants, and how they hope to continue to improve Oxbridge access as their organisation grows.

Access initiatives at Oxbridge

It is no secret that despite efforts to improve accessibility, there still remains a clear underrepresentation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds at Cambridge. Many state schools are simply unable to offer support for intensive Oxbridge applications that can compete with the UK’s top private schools that are overrepresented in admissions. Students may often feel Cambridge “isn’t for them”, unable to see themselves represented at Cambridge and discouraged by anecdotes about bizarre traditions and impossibly demanding “academic rigour.”

We asked for their thoughts on the university-led access initiatives taking place across Cambridge and Oxford, and Kavi told us “you can never do enough”, and that, as universities devote resources and funding to managing access issues within their student body, there’s still a lot to be done in supporting applicants too.

Vik told us that he thinks the foundation year scheme set to start in Cambridge in October 2022 is a great way to “bridge the gap for students from a disadvantaged background who wouldn’t even necessarily consider applying to Oxford and Cambridge” – but also added that it does not and cannot solve everything.

He elaborated on this: “A lot of students are afraid to apply to Cambridge, […] and maybe don’t even have the confidence in themselves to even apply for a foundation year.” Building this confidence, so often missing in students from underrepresented backgrounds, is key to the Oxbridge Launchpad mission.

Mentoring through the Oxbridge Launchpad

The Oxbridge Launchpad uses three key resources to support prospective applicants, offering support at every stage of the application process.

The Mentoring Scheme matches volunteer student mentors across a wide range of subjects from Oxford and Cambridge with year 12 students across the UK, providing one-to-one weekly or bi-weekly mentoring tailored around the students individual and subject specific needs, working towards building strong applications students can feel confident in submitting.

Mentoring offers students personal statement reviews, help with admissions tests, and most importantly mock interviews – something many students from underrepresented backgrounds feel especially nervous about.

With a team of over 350 mentors sharing their vision, over 300 hours of mentoring have been completed since the organisation’s creation, along with 10 workshops supporting over 500 state school students with mock interview practice and subject-specific application advice.

The Tab Cambridge spoke to a first-year Cambridge student currently offering mentoring sessions and contributing to the organisation’s information hub, a store of helpful resources for students to utilise while in the process of applying to Oxbridge: “It’s lovely to help someone who is so passionate about the subject you’re studying. It’s very rewarding – you quickly develop a partnership with your mentee and work together to build up their confidence and their application.” Mentoring is a flexible role but one that can make a big difference to prospective applicants.

The transition between school and University

Kavi and Vik were also keen to support students in managing the difficult bridge between A-Level and University content and developed the “Oxbridge Intelligence”, a collection of Oxbridge student-produced articles on academic subjects, to manage this.

The content team produces articles asking on topics ranging from “How can we clean up our solar system?” to “What is gender history?”, giving applicants a huge range of choice when trying to find reading material that is relevant to their application. Even as a university student, academic reading can be daunting, and for prospective Oxbridge students, this resource offers an opportunity to expand subject knowledge through accessible content that breaks down big ideas.

As well as this academic support, the Information Hub provides an honest student perspective on University life, and gives applicants an insight into the reality of studying at Cambridge, with advice about choosing colleges, and the strengths and weaknesses of different subjects from the student perspective.

Looking to the future

Managing a non-profit whilst juggling studies, dissertations, internship applications, and other projects has been a challenge in itself and has not been easy for the best friends and co-founders, but the support of their team, the success of the scheme so far, and most importantly, the cause behind it all, has kept their work going.

In the long term, Kavi and Vik are keen to continue offering and expanding upon these resources, recruiting new committee members and growing their team to help as many students as possible. Having partnered with 17 schools so far, the team are keen to develop these partnerships and continue to build more, in order to leave a “lasting impact.”

Vik and Kavi told us the importance of student volunteers in making the Oxbridge Launchpad the amazing resource it is. Keeping the initiative entirely student-driven allows the team to provide prospective applicants with a friendly face that can help students gain a realistic view of the Oxbridge student life, and give them confidence in their abilities and application.

The Oxbridge Launchpad team is always growing, and students can get involved by visiting the teams’ website, where you can find more information about signing up as a mentor, contributing to Oxbridge Intelligence, and building resources for the Information Hub.

Prospective applicants can find all the resources discussed and sign up to be assigned to a mentor here. Regular updates about opportunities for both undergrads and applicants are available on their Instagram and Facebook.

When contacted for comment, a University spokesperson said: “The University is committed to widening participation. In 2020 we accepted more than 70% of students from state schools, and one in four from under-represented and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. We also accepted a record number of Black students, representing a 50% increase on the previous year.

“The University is working hard to encourage students from less privileged backgrounds to apply whether it be through the offering of student bursaries or extra support through a variety of outreach activities. It will introduce a Foundation Year for students who come from backgrounds of educational or economic disadvantage and would not otherwise be in a position to make a competitive application to the University.”

Feature image credit and all image credits: Kavi Mehan 

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