The Telegraph, 30th August 2017
Oxford University has announced a new “buddy” system for working class undergraduates, after the student union said that they were being left to fend for themselves.
The Class Act campaign, set up by the student union earlier this year, is inviting freshers to sign up for a “buddy”, who will be fellow working class student, so that they can discuss their “class-related worries”.
These could include concerns about black tie events, subfusc – the formal attire and gowns students are expected to wear for exams – and not feeling “posh” enough, according to the Class Act committee.
The campaign aims to represent those who “self-identify as working class” which could include those from low income households, state comprehensive schools, or families where they are the first to go to university.
A spokesman for Oxford University’s student union said: “Oxford puts lots of excellent work into helping students we will represent get to Oxford, but this support isn’t continued once students get here, and talking about issues of class, socioeconomic, and educational privilege is often stigmatised.
“We will be providing representation that Class Act students currently don’t have to campaign on issues affecting them, creating networks that previously haven’t existed for students and alumni to meet and support each other, and provide relevant resources to support some of the specific welfare and academic needs of these students.”
Figures earlier this year showed that Oxford University accepts fewer state school students, bucking the national trend.
While universities across the country have increased the proportion undergraduates who are state educated, Oxford’s proportion has decreased, official figures show.
Oxford, which has the lowest proportion of state educated students in the country – excluding small specialist colleges – saw a drop in entrants from this background.
A number of student unions have recruited working class “officers” to represent poorer undergraduates whose voices are drowned out by their affluent peers.
The University of Manchester’s student union advertised earlier this year for the new role which it said “bridge the gap between working and middle class students” on campus, where they say the “class divide is particularly prevalent”. The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has a working class officer, as does King’s College London.
St Hilda’s College at Oxford University also voted to appoint a Class Liberation Officer, to represent working class students who suffer from ‘microaggressions and classism at university’ and needed more support.
Figures released earlier this year showed that the number of poor students who drop out of university before finishing their degree is at its highest in five years.
A report by the Office for Fair Access (Offa), found: “While more disadvantaged young people are in higher education than ever before, the numbers of those students leaving before completing their studies has risen for the second year in a row.”
A spokesman for Oxford University said: “We are happy to see any initiative which helps students of all backgrounds to feel welcome at Oxford, as they should. “This student-led initiative complements the progress the University is making in taking students from under-represented backgrounds.”