Outreach during the COVID-19 pandemic

Despite the obvious barriers created by the spring lockdown and subsequent imposed restrictions, the History Faculty has been working hard to reach out to potential applicants at a time when access has never been so challenging. Following the cancellation of all in-person events, including the July Open Days and both the spring and summer UNIQ courses, the Faculty has successfully supported a transition to online alternatives. Below is a summary of the 3 main activities that have taken place over Summer 2020: the Virtual Open Days, UNIQ Summer School, and a BAME Study Day.

Open Days

virtual open day

Oxford usually welcomes thousands of prospective students every summer but on the 1st and 2nd July this year the Undergraduate Open Days took place entirely online. The University provided an online platform for the Virtual Open Days and staff and students across the Faculty co-ordinated the production of new content to populate it. Academics and students feature in videos recorded in their own homes covering various topics from tips on how to apply, to a taster lecture on Africa and Europe in the 19th century. The videos have clearly become a valuable resource having received over 2,500 views and can still be accessed through the History Faculty Virtual Open Day page. In addition to the pre-recorded content between 11am-12pm and 5pm-6pm each day we hosted live Q&A sessions for prospective students. Staff and students representing the five joint schools and the single honours course answered 549 questions over the four hours.

The move to a virtual open day coincided with work already underway to improve the Faculty’s online resources for admissions and a larger project to overhaul the website. Work is still ongoing but do check out the fresh look admissions section complete with new resources and undergraduate course prospectus’. 


UNIQ logo

UNIQ, Oxford University’s flagship access programme for Year 12 students, was successfully moved online this summer. Eighty-seven students with outstanding school grades from UK state schools attended the free week long History course from 20th – 24th July. In addition to academic excellence, UNIQ prioritises applications from students from the most disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, neighbourhoods with the lowest participation in higher education, and students in receipt of free school meals, who are care-experienced, or are young carers.

The main aim of the UNIQ history week was to encourage Year 12 students to:

  • engage with new subjects and ways of approaching history
  • think critically about what they are learning
  • support their ambition to continue studying history at university

A new virtual course was designed during lockdown on the theme of ‘At Home in History: global and local stories’, to replace the three residential programmes normally offered by the History Faculty. The students explored the idea of home across a range of scales (household; community; nation; global) and in a variety of places and periods. In addition to participating in a programme of lectures and discussion groups, students wrote an essay and took part in a tutorial to explore ‘How useful is the study of home for understanding the past?’

The academic programme was delivered online by a team of 25 History Faculty lecturers, graduate students, and current undergraduates. The week’s History classes were supplemented by UNIQ activities, including sessions on admissions, student life, and social events. Feedback from students made clear that the programme had successfully delivered its aims, despite the challenges of not being able to teach the residential courses as planned. One participant commented:

“This week has reminded me how passionate I really am about history, sometimes I forget because of how restrictive A-Levels are. Seeing people like who were ambassadors, researchers and lectures made me feel a sense of belonging and at home. This week has given me the motivation to apply to Oxbridge and whenever I feel overwhelmed of like I can't do it, this week serves as a reminder of how much I am capable of.”

BAME Study Day

On Monday 27th July 2020, 48 students of Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic (BAME) heritages from across the country joined outreach officers, academics and undergraduates from across the Humanities Division for a virtual study day. This event was organised by University College, Magdalen College, the History Faculty and English Faculty and replaced an in-person event, which could not take place as planned in April.

Dr Samina Khan, Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach, opened the event. This was followed by a humanities admissions session and an informative Q&A with the History Faculty’s Professor Siân Pooley. Students then had the opportunity to engage with a subject-specific lecture, from the following selection:

  • English: ‘The 'World City' in Victorian Literature’ by Dr Ushashi Dasgupta
  • Oriental Studies: ‘Islam and Politics in the Middle East’ by Dr Usaama al-Azami
  • History: ‘Representing the First World War' by Dr Michael Joseph
  • Medieval and Modern Languages: ‘Sixteenth-century French Women’s Writing: Challenging Gender Expectations in Selected Works of the Dames des Roches’, by Nupur Patel

A student Q&A closed the event, chaired by Vanessa Worthington, responsible for BAME projects in the University’s Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach team. Four undergraduate ambassadors offered insightful answers to some excellent questions posed by the audience.

One of the participants on the day commented, “By the end of the day, I felt that attending this institution was a more tangible goal, which I could reach through hard work, without my ethnicity hindering my chances of success."