As thousands of teenagers across the country prepare to start at Oxford or Cambridge University, 50 of them owe special thanks to a young man who helped them win their coveted places.
Joe Seddon, 22, of Morley, West Yorkshire, the son of a single mum, attended state school and graduated last year with a first from Oxford University.
Having enjoyed his three years there, Joe realised many able youths from low income and disadvantaged families were slipping through the net to win places at the UK’s oldest universities.
Wanting to help, he created Access Oxbridge (AO) to offer free support to disadvantaged youths hoping to secure places at the elite establishments, and a year on, 50 students who were mentored by AO have won places at Oxbridge.
Joe said: ‘These 50 have just as much right to be at Oxbridge as their Eton and Westminster counterparts.
‘But students from low income and disadvantaged families face tougher hurdles to win their places than kids who’ve been at the top schools. It’s a fact.
Joe Seddon, 22, of Morley, West Yorkshire, with his speech therapist mother Catherine on his graduation day from Oxford University
Joe with brother Harry and sister Tilly. After three years at Oxford, Joe realised many able youths from low income and disadvantaged families were slipping through the net to win places at the UK’s oldest universities
After three years at Oxford, Joe realised many able youths from low income and disadvantaged families were slipping through the net to win places at the UK’s oldest universities.
Saving money from his grant and relying on a small amount from private donors, the Yorkshireman set up his own company to help people from similar backgrounds through the often overwhelming application and interview process at the elite establishments.
‘Despite the best efforts of Oxford and Cambridge, we all need to do far more to ensure students from low income backgrounds can break through the barriers to win places at the UK’s most reputable universities.’
Recalling the support he received ahead of his time at university, Joe continued: I had one teacher at my school who supported me to get to Oxford.
The students who won places at Oxbridge colleges with Joe’s help
Born to a 17-year-old mother and a father who left school at 14 with two CSEs, Ellie-Jay Williams is the first person in her family to go to university.
Thanks to the support from Access Oxbridge, the Merseyside teenager has won a place at Oxford University’s Worcester College to study English Literature.
Born to a 17-year-old mother and a father who left school at 14 with two CSEs, Ellie-Jay Williams (pictured) is the first person in her family to go to university
Raised by her single mother, Joanne Williams, Ellie-Jay’s school suggested she should look at applying.
‘I Googled what to do and came across AO. I signed up on the website and their help was invaluable,’ said the 18-year-old.
‘My mentor made me feel confident in my own abilities as I did think Oxbridge might be unattainable, out of my league – but it’s now a reality and I’m over the moon.’
Meanwhile, Nepalese-born Susan Bikram Thapa, with his parents Suresh and Saraswati Khanal, came to the UK in 2010 for his mother to further her education.
Susan, with his parents Suresh and Saraswati Khanal, came to the UK in 2010 for his mother to further her education
Despite speaking broken English, Susan, 18, thrived at his state secondary school in Reading.
‘It was me who mentioned Oxbridge to my teacher then I found AO on Instagram,’ he said.
‘I’d already applied but Joe contacted me straight away and arranged for me to do four mock interviews in one week with a mentor. It was crammed in but it gave me so much confidence and calmed me down,’ he explained.
Gaining a place to study engineering at Jesus College, Cambridge, Susan has decided to take a year out and work to earn extra money and will start there in October 2020.
Despite speaking broken English, Susan (pictured), 18, thrived at his state secondary school in Reading
‘On my first visit, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and history of the place. I had imposter syndrome just being there.
‘But when I got to university, I quickly realised I should not have felt like that. That inspired me to set up AO. My company offers free one-to-one mentoring for kids like me and I am delighted at my first year’s result.’
Joe, one of three children raised by his speech therapist mother Catherine in a former mill town, was a bright pupil at his state grammar school.
Despite this, he said: ‘Only one teacher suggested I might be able enough to apply to Oxbridge.
Joe (pictured outside his university) won a place at Mansfield College to study PPE – philosophy, politics and economics – graduating with a First Class Honours last summer
Joe at Oxford. Oxbridge recruits more students from the eight top schools in the UK than almost 3,000 other state schools put together
‘I looked up how to do it, but had no other support than a two-day summer school.
‘I felt as if I was entering another world as I walked to my interview and self doubt coursed through me.’
Joe won a place at Mansfield College to study PPE – philosophy, politics and economics – graduating with a First Class Honours last summer.
‘My college is unusual as 85 per cent of students come from state schools. Others have 55 per cent but they are from what I call “good” state schools in wealthy areas,’ Joe said.
‘I know universities say they are drawing increasing numbers of kids from diverse backgrounds, but they are not getting as many as they should – one reason is because they use old-fashioned techniques.
‘I draw on 21st century technology, using algorithms to target pupils from poor socio-economic areas. I also make use of social media. I know what works because I am in their age group.
How many state school pupils go to Oxfbridge?
More than six out of 10 new students admitted to Oxford last year were from state school backgrounds – the highest ever share.
The share of new students from poorer postcodes described as ‘areas of low progression to higher education’ went up to 13.1 per cent, the share of disabled studens was 9.2 per cent, and there were more women than men, at 51.2 per cent.
The University said early indications for this autumn’s intake showed that there was a record number of offers of places to state school students, 64.5 per cent, and offers to students from less favoured areas were up to 13.8 per cent.
It said that the selection of students had been by academic potential alone and there had been no lowering of standards for any group.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson said the growing numbers of minority, poor and state school students had been encouraged by university initiatives, such as the UNIQ programme that invites potential students to spend a week in Oxford preparing for possible admission.
In May this year it was announced that one in four new students at Oxford will be from the poorest backgrounds by 2023 in a shake-up which will allow some to be admitted with lower grades.
For the first time, 250 of the 2,500 places available every year will be reserved for disadvantaged state school pupils.
A record level of state school pupils have also been admitted to Cambridge this year, figures show.
More than 68 per cent of students starting degree courses at the university this autumn are from the state sector – up from 65.3 per cent last year.
The university said the ‘significant’ rise shown by its provisional figures means it is accepting the highest number of pupils from maintained schools since comparable records began. It aims to increase the proportion to 69.1 per cent by 2024/25.
Oxbridge recruits more students from the eight top schools in the UK than almost 3,000 other state schools put together. Pictured: Cambridge University
‘Recently, I created and launched an app to make applying easier and more accessible. My social media has attracted tens of thousands of people because it’s quick and easy to work through.’
Joe is passionate in getting more youths from diverse backgrounds into the universities.
‘How can it be good for the country to just attract students from a pretty narrow band of geographic and class backgrounds?’ he asked.
‘Kids who have had tough upbringings have great resilience and thrive once they get to university. It’s a level playing field and about ability.’
Oxbridge recruits more students from the eight top schools in the UK than almost 3,000 other state schools put together.
To qualify for a place on the Access Oxbridge (AO) programme, pupils must attend a UK state school and come from areas in the bottom 40 per cent of the least wealthy areas in the UK.
With AO, Joe offers 12 hours structured one-to-one mentoring from current Oxbridge students to applicants, guiding them through the application process, writing personal statements, and interview techniques.
Joe said: ‘I’m so proud of our first 50 success stories. I hope they’re the first of many as having an Oxbridge degree could shape their lives for decades ahead.’