Close the Gap: Fair Admissions in Postgraduate Research | About us

Working in partnership, and with wider stakeholders, Oxford and Cambridge Universities are analysing formal and informal graduate admissions cultures, systems and practices, and developing and testing new disciplinary-specific, race-literate, fair selection processes that are designed to bring about meaningful change in doctoral candidate-selection systems. 

The £1.6m project investment is funded through an award of £800k by Research England and the Office for Students (Funding programme to improve access and participation for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students in postgraduate research); the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge; and through contributions from project partners Blueprint for All and The Careers Research and Advisory Centre (CRAC) Ltd.

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Black British, British Bangladeshi, and British Pakistani students are widely underrepresented in postgraduate research (PGR) in the UK overall, and in all major discipline groups at doctoral level in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Both Universities have introduced new initiatives in recent years to try to improve doctoral application rates amongst historically marginalised students. However, variations persist in the likelihood of receiving an offer of a place to study, and on average, a Black British, British Bangladeshi, or British Pakistani candidate has been only around half as likely as a White candidate to receive an offer for doctoral study at either University. We need to understand the reasons and barriers that lead to this difference in success rates, transform the systems and cultures that shape this, and co-develop a range of new, fair postgraduate admissions processes and tools to close this ‘Offer Gap.’

To define and develop doctoral candidate-selection processes and practices that reduce, and ultimately eliminate, the Offer Gap for UK-domiciled applicants from underrepresented ethnic groups, tailored to the specific circumstances of the different academic disciplines. To embed a permanent shift away from deficit-driven admissions structures, cultures, and practices to benefits-based models of assessing academic potential. To improve the effectiveness of wider interventions aimed at improving admissions, experiences, and outcomes of marginalised students across the whole academic pipeline. To develop a long-term collaborative link between Oxford and Cambridge to embed transparency and justice in doctoral admissions through continued innovation beyond the funded project. To contribute robustly evidenced methodologies for wide organisational change in doctoral admissions, cultures, and practices across the sector.

We are applying a four phase ‘map and test’ approach, using collective enquiry, informed experimentation and reflection-driven refinement to drive change, working with 16 departments / clusters of related departments across all the Divisions (Oxford) and Schools (Cambridge) of the two Universities:


PHASE 1: Mapping

Year 1

PHASE 2: Developing

Years 1-2

PHASE 3: Testing

Years 2, 3 and 4

PHASE 4: Evaluating and sharing

Years 1-4


Year 4 and beyond

  • Map existing formal and informal practices in 16 pilot departments.
  • Wide student consultation.
  • Identify current innovative practice in the HE sector.
  • Explore extra-sector best practice.
  • Colloquium: establish Sector Network Group.
  • Co-create selection model Prototypes for testing from identified inputs and associated training.
  • Plan and prepare for changes to central departmental processes, timelines and resources and agree KPIs.
  • Test a range of Prototypes in 16 pilot departments across all major fields in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
  • Potential broad prototype areas for test (from quick wins to step-change, matched with department readiness)
    • Central admin and software solutions (e.g. flags, positive action, fast track to interview);
    • Benefits-led (e.g. Rare CRS, holistic review, diagnostic essay, researcher development framework, assessment centre);
    • Structural or step-change (e.g. cross-functional teams, foundation/conversion to Master’s)
    • 2-3 cycles per pilot, depending on lead time to implement.
  • Formative evaluation (Years 1-4): evaluation of Pilots against KPIs; Stakeholder feedback; refine and re-test; extensive sharing with stakeholders and sector.
  • Summative evaluation (Year 4): proposed methodology and models for sector.
  • Extension across other departments in Oxford and Cambridge, and to other HEIs.