The UNIQ experience of two St Benet's students


This summer I got the opportunity to help with the UNIQ summer school. As a student ambassador for theology I was able to assist with academic lessons on Islamic history and a Hebrew for beginners language class. These sessions provide an insight for prospective students into Oxford style teaching as well as giving them the confidence to explore new topics and process the material in a short amount of time. The students were also given a short essay task with readings and  a tutorial slot to discuss what they produced during the week. It was great to see many students so engaged with the material for their essay and able to form strong points in the tutorial discussion. I was able to assist during the Buddhism tutorial on whether Buddhism should be taught separate from where it is practiced and students came up with insightful and practical solutions to problems posed by the tutor. 

Applying to university, especially Oxford, can be quite an intimidating and complicated process and UNIQ helps to make this much more manageable for students. Throughout the week it was lovely to be able to help with this by hosting the ambassador drop in sessions to share advice and reassurance on admissions tests, college choices, choosing a course etc. Although it was a shame the students could not enjoy the city and the social aspect of UNIQ this year, I feel now more than ever that these programmes are invaluable to provide information for students. Due to COVID many cannot directly speak to admissions staff and open day helpers or visit the colleges making certain decisions much more difficult for students. This is why I aim to do some outreach work whenever I can and give back to the Oxford community.

Susmita Dave - Theology 

UNIQ, or the Oxford Summer School, is an outreach programme by the University meant to encourage state school students from underrepresented backgrounds to give Oxford a go and to help them apply. My role in the programme for the past two years has been that of an ambassador for Theology and Religion - UNIQ is divided into different subjects, and the prospective students can choose which subject to apply for. They then get the ‘Oxford experience’ (or something close to it) in that specific subject (when I did UNIQ myself some four years ago, I did PPE). The ambassadors have traditionally been very central to UNIQ. I remember the ambassadors from when I did UNIQ very well, and I spent a lot of time with them. Normally, the ambassadors show the students around Oxford, answer their questions, entertain them, make sure the students do not get lost when going from lecture to lecture, and so on. Our role has been somewhat reduced ever since UNIQ moved online, since bonding with the students is more difficult and we do not spend every day all day with them for a week. That said, there was still a fair bit to do with delivering online activities.

When I started my training as an ambassador for the university, I of course expected UNIQ to be in person! I saw myself in the role that I remember the ambassadors from when I was a prospective student filling. Indeed, I was trained two years ago in the assumption that it would be in person. Of course, that was not the case. It was a shame, since I would have much preferred meeting and engaging with the prospective students in person, but it was still fun to get to know tens of people enthusiastic about theology or philosophy, even if through Microsoft Teams.

The format of UNIQ changed a lot due to going online last year, and it changed a lot again from the previous year to this year. It was made part-time and less intensive, taking part over a number of weeks, and divided into different sections to do with life in Oxford, academia, and applying, as opposed to it being all mashed into one full-time week. I must admit that I was disappointed by how little it resembled the close-knit atmosphere I remembered from my UNIQ. UNIQ is great, so I think it is a shame that it took place the way it did in the middle of the pandemic. I suspect many of the students were sick of having lessons online. 

Especially the previous year, there was a lot of responsibility on my shoulders, as I had to learn a lot about IT and then really try to show all my charisma delivering the sessions that I and the other theology ambassadors pre-prepared. Having done it myself, I knew that the prospective students spent a long time applying to UNIQ, and I did not want to disappoint them by not providing the best possible experience. I think we did quite well, though. At the end we even all sang ‘Time To Say Goodbye’ over Zoom.

Bartlomiej Staniszewski - Theology