BRINGING OXBRIDGE TO THE WORLD: FIND OUT HOW THESE TWO OXFORD GRADUATES HAVE TURNED THEIR EDUCATION EXPERIENCE INTO A BUSINESS

Oxford Summer Courses is now entering its tenth year as a provider of education courses to people from all over the world, and its growth has been impressive.

Oxford Summer Courses’ revenues have risen from £958k in 2014/15 to over £8.1m in 2017/18, while in the same time period, staff numbers rose from three to 26.

Last year, the revenue rose by a staggering 80%, and the two ex-Oxford graduates also know how to turn a profit, with the business operating a healthy bottom line.

Inspirational Oxford

So, how did it all begin?

The company’s story started when school friends and Oxford graduates Harry Hortyn and Robert Phipps founded a residential tuition company in 2010.

They started with just a few lessons out of the prestigious Oriel College, spotting early on the value of courses taught from a world-renowned British university.

Harry comments: “Robert and I were both students at Oxford University and we both had an amazing experience here. It really is an inspirational place because of Oxford itself, as well as the people you work with and the tutors that you learn from. It really lights a spark within you, and we wanted to share that with as many students as possible.

“We thought that with there being a lot of empty space over the summer, we could utilise this to teach courses and this would also allow us to give academics more teaching opportunities out of term time. There was an appetite for international students to come here too and learn in an authentic way.”

The company now operates out of 14 Oxford colleges, as well as at Cambridge University and University of London. Their popularity internationally has led to academics travelling across the world to join the business.

Humble beginnings

Before Oxford Summer Courses achieved its impressive growth, the company operated for many years as a side project for the co-founders.

Hortyn said: “At the start of the business we were both working full time jobs, and used the weekends to keep the plates spinning for Oxford Summer Courses. We would then take time off in the summer to actually run the courses. That was our process for several years but then in 2013, we gained an important accreditation from the British Accreditation Councils. They came in and inspected everything that we did and set out to professionalise the business.

“In 2015, we both committed to the business full time and we have doubled in size in terms of our revenues every year since then. In 2015, it went from me, Rob and his mum – who was our sales manager – to now having 34 full-time staff at our permanent head office.”

Summer vs semester

One of the many attractive elements for Oxford Summer Courses is the authenticity of the Oxbridge experience.

But how does a summer course differ from regular term time for an undergraduate?

Hortyn explains: “There is a wide range of academic courses available that are similar to what undergraduates study. The most popular ones are business, medicine, psychology, law, but there are many specialist subjects as well like philosophy and biochemistry.

“However, we have also recently launched a lot of more ‘modern’ subjects. These include artificial intelligence, robotics and other scientific courses at the cutting edge of technology. In total there are around 40 different subjects, and the students pick one of these to study over a two-week period.

“Our courses are not as intense as those a full-time student would study. We have softened, so people do not need to stay up all night completing their work. It is more like the atmosphere of the last week of the summer term, by finding a balance between academic work and having enough time to explore the city, museums and restaurants, and that kind of thing. It is not as intense as term-time would be.”

International popularity

International growth is also on the company’s agenda, with students from across the globe engaging on the course and an opportunity to launch schools in other countries.

Hortyn explains: “There are a number of different factors for why we have become so popular internationally, but our main one is word of mouth. We find that one year, we get the older sibling and then a few years later their younger sibling or friends will join us. From word of mouth, we have built relationships with schools and certain cities around the world.

“Oxford has a strong international reputation for high quality education – so it is an excellent source of tutors. That is something that does appeal to international students. There is also a social and cultural aspect to our success with international students. Going punting, visiting the museums, and local attractions are all things that people see as quintessentially British and are part of the Oxford experience – that is a huge appeal for foreign students.”

Future growth

In regards to expansion internationally, Hortyn says: “In Santiago and Lima, where we currently operate, the schools are a reasonable size – but are only around the top 40 or 50 in the world. This is a good indicator, because in all those other top cities we are not operating in, with higher populations, there are probably a lot more students who want to come and engage with what we’re doing.

“This means that there are definitely a lot more cities that are viable. This is particularly true for those countries with the most barriers when looking to come to the UK. We are particularly interested in engaging with students further from the UK – East Asia, China, Australia, Latin America – places where we can make an impact, rather than it being purely commercial.”

However, it’s not just physical teaching in a classroom where the company is looking to grow. Oxford Summer Courses next big plan is to start offering online courses, making it easier for people to access this high level of education.

Hortyn explains: “By taking it online, no matter where the student is, or what time of day it is, the student will be able to access really high-quality teaching in their subjects – that is what we are really excited about at the moment.

“We will offer projects around specialist STEM courses, in order to close the skills gap – a national problem that a lot of industries are now facing. The tech and skills shortages are impacting on what employers are looking for, and sometimes when people leave education they don’t have the necessary skills. We aim to help with this, and there is an interesting opportunity for us to continue growing.”

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