Oxford’s Wadham College: Diversity Drives Standards Up, Not Down

Wadham College is a standout example of how a dedicated leadership and governing body can successfully admit a diverse range of undergraduates. While some Oxford colleges have implemented innovative access schemes, Wadham leads the way with 68% of its admissions coming from state schools, compared to just 41% of its neighbour, Trinity. Wadham has also invested around £18m in a designated access centre located close to the Bodleian library and Sheldonian theatre.

According to Peter Thonemann, classics fellow and tutor, Wadham has one of the highest proportions of students from the maintained sector among Oxford colleges and consistently sits among the top five of the Norrington table. The reason behind this success is no coincidence – the college draws its undergraduate students from a wider range of social backgrounds, thus driving up academic standards.

Wadham incorporates its widening participation work into its admissions process through specialist staff who collaborate with schools in target areas like Luton and the East London boroughs including Tower Hamlets and Newham. Hugh Munro, Wadham’s access and outreach coordinator, explains that the challenge lies in encouraging capable A-level students from the different parts of the country to apply to Oxford.

However, if students targeted by Wadham fail to meet their A-level targets, careful discussions are held as to whether to proceed with their admission.

Caroline Mawson, Wadham’s senior tutor, explains that the college is cautious not to admit students who will struggle to keep up with the course content. However, Wadham has carefully evaluated the performance of students admitted after dropping a grade and found that they perform comparably to other students.


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