A network of Higher Education Institutions in which Steve Rayner, Senior Tutor at Somerville, represents both Somerville and the University of Oxford, has been successful in winning funding for access work from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

The Widening Participation Collaborative Group (WPCG) network bid was led by Keele University. Eight institutions form the collaborative network, among them Somerville College, Oxford. The Group was successful in winning funding on the National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (NNCO) scheme.

“I’m delighted that HEFCE have recognised the commitment and work that Somerville has put into improving access to Higher Education and to Oxford in a part of the UK with areas of significant deprivation,” said Steve Rayner, Senior Tutor at Somerville College.

“The main reason I’m so pleased about this award is that it will allow us to do more to reach more of the very capable students who could be highly successful at Oxford but who might be put off applying – Somerville, after all, is all about changing lives for the better through education,” he said.

The group also includes the Universities of Staffordshire, Derby, Chester, Harper Adams, Manchester Metropolitan, and Reaseheath College. It is focused on improving access in North Staffordshire, Cheshire, Shropshire and Derbyshire.

The scheme targets schools and colleges with relatively few pupils who go on to university but will offer a gateway to information for all state-funded schools and colleges. Oxford is the only member university of the network that is not based in the catchment area.

“Working to help raise aspirations and progression rates into Higher Education in Stoke and surrounding areas has been a personal quest for me now over a number of years,” said Dr Rayner.

“This is a part of the world I feel a strong connection with. I really want to tell as many people as possible, ‘I was born in Stoke. I studied at Oxford for my undergraduate degree. I got about the best education on the planet and had the time of my life there and it proved to be the platform for a hugely satisfying career. That could all happen to you, no matter what your background or where you come from. Go for it.’”

Somerville was also the only Oxford College to co-sponsor a successful bid for HEFCE funding as part of the NNCO scheme. The University made three successful funding applications in total. Oxford representatives for the remaining two were both from the central university administration. The bid in which Steve Rayner was involved is the only successful Oxford bid focused on more deprived areas of England. (Of the other two, one focuses on Oxfordshire and Bucks while the other has a national remit.)

Steve Rayner joined the collaboration that became the WPCG at its inception more than a decade ago. Since then, it has broadened its remit from covering Stoke-on-Trent to taking in three-and-a-half counties. With its regional focus, the group’s genesis and rise reflects the priorities of its members, while its success in winning HEFCE funding points to the proactivity of its members.

Dr Alice Prochaska, Principal of Somerville College, was especially pleased to see Somerville’s focus on access bearing fruit.

“Somerville is delighted to be part of this initiative, and I am very proud of the work that the college, and its Senior Tutor especially, does in the field of enhancing access to Oxford,” she said. “Congratulations to Steve!”

The University also covered this story on its website and Somerville published a further article on the award in the 2015 Somerville Magazine.

For more information about Somerville’s Access work, please email access@some.ox.ac.uk

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