2021 marks the 150 year anniversary of the 1871 University Tests Act, which opened the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Durham to students and staff of any faith.

St John's Open Day.jpgPreviously the University had sought to protect its Protestant orthodoxy by requiring all matriculating students to swear an oath of allegiance to the monarch and the Church, effectively banning any student of non-Protestant faith. Similar rules were in place for those seeking teaching positions in the University, and were the strictest regulations of any university in England.

The University removed its requirement to swear an oath to the Church when matriculating in 1854, except for those studying Theology, but many colleges and jobs remained closed to non-Anglicans. The Tests Act of 1871 marked a major step in overcoming these barriers and opening Oxford up to a wider range of people after increasing pressure from outside the University. The Act abolished religious 'Tests' for 'any degree (other than a degree in Divinity)' and allowed students, professors and staff of any denomination to enter the University.

Thankfully, Oxford has come a long way since 1871, with our University and College community now comprising scholars, fellows and staff of all faiths and none. We know, however, that there is still progress to be made, and the anniversary of this first step in opening Oxford up to the world is a great opportunity to reflect on how we can continue to move forward in this important area.

One of the ways we’re doing this here at St John’s is through our Inspire programme, aimed at students in Years 9 to 13 from non-selective state schools in our linked London Boroughs of Ealing and Harrow. The programme offers a series of events, visits and workshops to students with the aim of supporting and encouraging talented pupils to consider and make well-founded applications to top universities like Oxford.

We are proud that the important work done by Inspire, and so many other access initiatives throughout the University, continues to uphold the commitment to fair and equal access to an Oxford education, as set forward in the Tests Act 150 years ago today.

For more information on the anniversary of the University Tests Act (including an article by Professor William Whyte), please visit https://openingoxford1871.web.ox.ac.uk/.

For more information on Inspire and our other access initiatives, please visit https://www.sjc.ox.ac.uk/schools/inspire-programme/.