Oxbridge or bust? Not so – students should broaden their horizons when choosing a university, says Wendy Heydorn, Director of Higher Education at Sevenoaks School
Many students at Sevenoaks School in Kent apply to Oxbridge – and about 20% gain offers. This reflects well, as the entrance quota is often used to measure a school’s excellence.
But Oxbridge can no longer be used as a sole indicator of a school’s excellence. Ten of the top 15 ranked universities in The Times 2015-16 World University Rankings were in the US. They offer world-renowned degrees and hold increasing appeal for UK applicants.
At Sevenoaks, all pupils take the International Baccalaureate Diploma. It follows that the Liberal Arts courses widely offered at US universities – but not at Oxbridge – appeal to students who are accustomed to such a broad programme of study.
In recent years, several leading UK universities, including Durham, Exeter and Bristol, have introduced similar courses. In 2012, UCL, one of the top 10 global universities* launched an Arts and Sciences BASc undergraduate degree. As well as developing interdisciplinary thinking, it may also be suited to students who want to show future employers their expertise across different disciplines.
This can also benefit students who are seeking a specific academic or vocational subject in internationally recognised departments – such as Artificial Intelligence at Edinburgh, or Criminology at Durham.
In researching subjects, the university ranking can be useful. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) results, shows for example, that Warwick, Imperial and UCL are top for Computer Science and Informatics, while artists may aim for world-class colleges such as the Royal College of Art, or Rhode Island School of Design. High Fliers Research, specialising in student and graduate recruitment, shows that the universities most targeted by employers are Manchester and Nottingham.
So are Oxbridge entrant numbers the best way to assess a secondary school? Maybe it’s time to look at the bigger picture.
At Sevenoaks we have 13 higher education staff, and while Oxbridge suits many, we assist equally excellent applicants who prefer to study elsewhere in the UK or internationally. In an increasingly global workplace, it is imperative that students and parents think with open minds.
This article was originally published in The Independent Guide to Schools in Autumn 2016