Paving the way for success

From the outreach programmes that raise awareness of the benefits of higher education, to the scholarships that make it possible for the brightest students to study at Oxford, the support provided by donors is making a crucial difference to students.

Gurpal Khera, Reuben Scholar

Reuben Scholar Gurpal Khera is reading for a BA in Oriental Studies, with a focus on Sanskrit, the ancient, classical language of India. ‘My family’s heritage is Indian so I’ve been introduced to languages that directly branch from Sanskrit in the past,’ explains Gurpal. ‘I never thought I’d study it though, if I’m honest!’

Gurpal applied to Oxford after attending the University’s UNIQ summer school programme. Open to students studying in their first year of further education, UNIQ offers a real insight into life at Oxford, with participants staying over in the colleges, attending lectures and tutorials, and engaging with top academics during their week-long residency.

By opening Oxford’s doors in this way, the programme hopes to encourage aspiration among students who might not otherwise consider applying to the University. Gurpal recalls: ‘The outreach work on behalf of UNIQ was key. I didn’t think I would get into Oxford until I tried the summer school and realised that this is something that’s achievable and enjoyable.’ It was at UNIQ that Gurpal first tried her hand at Sanskrit, and discovered a love for it.

As a Reuben Scholar, Gurpal receives support to cover living costs as well as contributions towards her academic fees. ‘It would be a lot more difficult to study here without the scholarship,’ she says. ‘It means I can be a bit more proactive which is really nice, attending activities and talks. With the bursary I can really look to the future.’

Sandra Ionescu, Frost Scholar

After completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Florida, Sandra Ionescu came to Oxford in 2014 to read for a master’s in pharmacology. ‘It was completely down to having the scholarship,’ she says, when recalling her initial decision to study here. ‘I knew about the University, but I would never have thought to apply without it. It just seemed unachievable to someone out of state school in America.’

For international students, a scholarship can mean the difference between taking up a place at Oxford, or choosing an institution closer to home. Sandra considers herself ‘extremely lucky’ to have been awarded a Frost Scholarship – one of ten made available each year to students from Florida studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subjects.

Sandra graduated from her course in 2015, and is now in her second year of a DPhil in Chemical Biology. ‘During my master’s studies I was able to spend some time in the lab of Professor Hagan Bayley,’ she says. ‘In fact I enjoyed it there so much that I ended up staying!’ She is now researching the way proteins in bacteria contribute to antibiotic resistance, and how they might be developed to serve other functions, such as biosensors.

Life as a scholar has clearly left a lasting impression on her. ‘I don’t know where I would be now had it not been for the scholarship,’ says Sandra. ‘The environment here changes you as a person – you’re always being challenged, and you have so many opportunities. The impact has been immeasurable.’