Open Letter - Response from the Oxford Doctoral Course in Clinical Psychology. 14.10.22

We are writing in response to the open letter of 10th October from Tam Queen. We wish to note that the issues raised in this letter have not been raised with us as a Programme directly in advance of the open letter being circulated. When we receive queries such as this we do our best to respond to individuals where time permits. We understand that public response may well result in disagreement, of course. As a Course we are committed to improving accessibility, inclusivity and diversity within our training cohorts, and as such welcome dialogue with aspiring clinical psychologists, health care professionals and our wider stakeholders. We are of course accountable to multiple stakeholders, which impacts on a range of issues include admissions policy and practice.

It may be helpful to begin with certain clarifications. As noted in Tam’s letter, and reiterated here, the Oxford Course does welcome and encourage applications from those candidates who have taken varied educational routes. As a course we receive applications from candidates who have undertaken their educational journeys in around 50 countries and multiple systems within, all of which are considered using internationally recognised standardised criteria. We are aware that people do have different paths into Clinical Psychology that may not include formal assessment at A-level (or equivalent) stage, and indeed welcome those. Such applications are carefully considered individually and in detail, and people with individual educational journeys do attend interview and are offered training places on the course. However, even though such applications are considered on a case by case basis, it should be noted that an individual educational journey does not guarantee a place at interview, particularly given the large number of applications received.  

Within the letter, it was noted that a Master’s degree could perhaps be given greater weighting in comparison with qualifications (typically) taken earlier within an educational journey. The Oxford Course has considered the weighting of the Master’s degree in depth, noting also that it has been strongly suggested by others that having such a degree can be an indicator of privilege. Balancing these various factors, including the variable cost, access, and frequency of take-up across different countries from which our candidates have undertaken their learning, is a dilemma that training courses, including Oxford, face. As a postgraduate research degree, a strong academic record is required for admission. The Course does believe that providing candidates with opportunities to demonstrate this at various (though not necessarily all) points across their educational journey is one method of finding such balance.

As part of the Admissions process, shortlisting of applications is undertaken by a wide panel of course tutors and regional psychologists (numbering 40 people for 2022 entry), with both visible and hidden diversity. Shortlisting is undertaken according to specified criteria and includes assessment of clinically relevant work experience, appropriate research experience, as well as additional skills and competencies (noted in detail on our website and in our online admission talk), references and publications / dissemination, as well as personal statements and lived experience of ill health / adversity. Shortlisters and interviewers undergo specific training for their roles, which includes unconscious bias and anti-racism components. Redaction of identifiable information (e.g. name, gender, name of referee, etc) is also undertaken to reduce potential bias. These aspects are central to the Oxford Course Admissions shortlisting process. Nonetheless, all courses employ their own specific weighting and considerations in both initial screening and in detailed shortlisting. With this diversity in assessment, continued in interviews and reflective of the diversity of training experiences and foci that different courses offer, it is thus expected, and a frequent occurrence, that candidates will receive interviews from certain courses and not others.  

Within the admissions process, we are aware that places offered to candidates who are from minority ethnic backgrounds does not necessarily equate to places taken up by such candidates, with factors such as current living location, family commitments, alternative offers, and the cost of living in Oxford all being factors that have been noted as potentially influencing a view to train in Oxford. This is something we are exploring further as a course, with additional support for those from such backgrounds once undertaking training.   

For the 2022 entry, we received 634 applications (with two subsequently withdrawing mid cycle), and offered 140 interviews for the 45 commissioned training places. This was a significant increase of 50 interview places in comparison to the 2021 entry cycle, planned to ensure that more people would have the opportunity to attend interview, as we increase cohort sizes. We will interview even more candidates in the 2023 cycle. We are open in stating that we would like to be able to offer more places than we can as we aware of the wealth of relevant experience among aspiring clinical psychologists, however there are limitations upon our training numbers. 

We agree with Tam that there is considerable under-representation in Clinical Psychology of people who are of global majority status / minority ethnic status, and/or who have experienced indices of disadvantage within their life. The Oxford Course is engaging in several actions intended to widen access. Following a monitoring period in the previous Admissions cycle, in which evidence was gathered to further understand the impact of embedding additional / alternate selection criteria, the Oxford Course is embedding contextual admissions criteria within the current 2023 Admission process. These were ratified in September 2022. They include several changes that we believe will improve equity of access to the course this year; inclusion of contextual criteria within our admission process, embedded from initial assessment of eligibility and carried through interview, and adjustment of the academic scoring criteria for A-Levels or equivalents. There has been a broadening of the diversity of our shortlisting and interviewing panels, pre-application intersectionality events for people of global majority status, development of our clinical task and interviews to further consider issues of culture and power, as well as increasing the involvement of our Experts by Experience throughout Admissions. 

The Oxford Course is proud to have been able to provide the ‘Mind to Mind’ mentoring scheme for the first-time last year, building on our history of holding special open events for minoritised candidates. As Tam has importantly identified in her letter, yet more initiatives to widen access to the profession are needed. We are keen to increase representation of trainees from diverse minority ethnic backgrounds and also recognise that we need to consider the representation of Black trainees as part of our ongoing work to support equity of access onto clinical psychology training. Our key hopes for the mentoring scheme have been to provide aspiring clinical psychologists from minority ethnic backgrounds with an opportunity to receive support that is tailored to each mentee’s career stage, whilst also taking the important interplay of personal and professional experiences into account. Participating in any mentoring scheme is meant to improve equity, but cannot of course ensure that a place is obtained. 

Feedback from mentees has indicated that our mentoring scheme has provided a valuable, safe and helpful space to receive encouragement and support from both trainee and qualified clinical psychologists. Whilst we are aware of the benefits of mentoring schemes such as ours, we also acknowledge that initiatives such as these are only one aspect of the wider context relating to widening representation in Clinical Psychology training and indeed, the ongoing discussions and work that are required across our profession. We are committed to reviewing and developing our course mentoring scheme and also to consider the range of barriers that may be faced by individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds. 

We are aware that for many, making a decision to train as a clinical psychologist is one that is not taken lightly, and that much hard work and perseverance are required in the pursuit of a training place. Training courses do have their own criteria which typically have been considered carefully, monitored, evaluated and evolved, a process which in our case is undertaken with input from stakeholders including University, Trainees, Supervisors and Experts by Experience. Academic achievement is assessed at the first stage of selection, and our course considers that this first filter is important before the second stage of more detailed shortlisting. Other courses use, for example, ability tests (which may be considered IQ test equivalents) for initial screening. We decided against such an approach. At Oxford we are pleased to consider individuals who are still in undergraduate courses (final year), as well as not requiring a full year of clinical experience, to widen opportunities up further for applicants. We will continue to work towards a more diverse workforce.

We look forward to the upcoming Admissions cycle, and to meeting as many applicants as possible in that process.

The Oxford Doctoral Course in Clinical Psychology.