A RECENT Oxford graduate has set up a free online mentoring service to help disadvantaged kids get into the world’s best universities — because he’s sick of posh people hiring private tutors.
Joe Seddon, 21, founded Access Oxbridge after becoming frustrated at the ‘huge advantage’ middle-class children have on getting into Oxford and Cambridge.
And he has already attracted praise from Nobel Peace Prize winner and Oxford student Malala Yousafzai, who has described the site, which matches mentors with disadvantaged state school sixth formers, as ‘amazing’.
Joe, who is the first person in his family to get into Oxbridge, turned down City jobs in law and finance after graduating with a first class degree in philosophy, politics and economics and teaching himself how to code this summer.
Instead, the bright self-starter, of Morley, West Yorkshire, has been working on the project 14 hours per day since it launched two weeks ago.
And his hard work seems to be paying off as more than 500 Oxbridge volunteer mentors and 60 students from across the country have already signed up to it.
He said: ‘The idea of the organisation is to connect disadvantaged students directly with Oxbridge mentors.
‘There have been lots of access schemes in the past which have thought to do this, but they do it through very indirect and inefficient methods.
‘It’s completely online and it’s a start-up that’s completely different from these big faceless institutions engaging in access programmes.
‘The end game is that we see change in some of those appalling admission statistics that you see in the media.
‘Oxbridge admits two times as many people from Eton than on free-school meals — I would like to see that change.’
Joe’s site works by matching volunteer Oxbridge mentors with state-schooled sixth formers who have at least six A or A* GCSE grades and who live in postcodes deemed to be ‘low socio-economic background’ — a status determined using a government algorithm.
He got the idea when he became a private tutor to make ends meet in his second year at university and it’s already the ‘biggest online education service for Oxbridge mentors’, he says.
‘I’ve been working 14 hour days over the past two weeks in order to make sure things get going because disadvantaged students can’t wait — they need solutions now,’ he added.
‘Middle-class families are playing to the UCAS application process to get their children into Oxbridge.
‘Middle-class kids and the people at the top, they know how the system works, they know the unofficial rules of the game — and that’s a big problem because disadvantaged students don’t know the rules of the game.
‘I remember the shock of turning up on Fresher’s Week and walking into the pub for the first time and you look around and you don’t see a single black face or hear a single northern voice either.
‘This shock was amplified when I started studying at Oxford.
‘The main thing for me was just sitting down with other students and hearing their stories of how they had been in private nurseries since the age of three.
‘So obviously that’s a huge advantage that middle-class parents and their kids, who are turned on to these things, have.
‘[Disadvantaged students] need solutions now and that’s why what I’m doing is helping [them] game the system as well, so it’s all about levelling the playing field.’
Joe is now touring schools in disadvantaged areas to promote his site to students as well as advertising on social media.
He said: ‘That’s where young people are nowadays and that’s the easiest way to reach them.
‘I think the problem with the university is that they haven’t really understood that. They don’t have people working on access who understand how social media works.
‘The idea is to be a social enterprise — it will always remain free of charge for students, but hopefully in the long run we will be looking for sponsorship.
‘The universities spent over £100,000 on each disadvantaged student while we are doing it essentially for free, so it would be great if they divert some of those funds to the site.
‘This is something I want to grow into a big organisation because we want to reach as many students as possible.’
Joe said he would not have got into Oxford if it weren’t for a teacher encouraging him to apply — adding this was typical for many disadvantaged students.
He said: ‘In lots of these schools it just isn’t on the radar for most people… It’s almost like a different world and people don’t see it as real, as something that they could achieve and strive for.’