Nearing the end of his undergraduate degree at Oxford University, our Director, William Humphreys, reflected on the life-changing opportunities that had been afforded to him, and the countless avenues now open ahead of him, as a result of his time at Oxford.
Affected profoundly by the transformational effect this place and this education had had on his life, he started discussions with his brother and Co-Director George about how these same opportunities and experiences might be offered to students looking to make decisions about their own futures.
George and William opened the first ORA summer school in 2005, made up of 35 students, a number of whom are still in touch with us and each other today! That summer was full of academic energy and progress, friendship, cultural expansion, and fun! It became clear that the opportunity to use summer holidays to learn in an entirely different way from school was both exciting and inspiring to students from all over the world. Energised by the opportunity to bring something new to the world of education, our most popular courses were born and aptly named ‘New Perspectives’ and ‘Broadening Horizons’.
We build and retain close relationships with our students and their parents, listening carefully to their experiences and ambitions. These relationships have become an important driver of our growth and we are always thrilled to hear from alumni about the paths they have taken and the successes they have enjoyed.
By 2008, we were accredited by the British Council, had assembled a committed team of staff and teachers excited by this new philosophy, and were welcoming hundreds of students each year to Oxford to study a growing number of courses. From 2010 onwards, with students wanting to return to the programme but keen to see more of the world, we began programmes in Cambridge, and later St Andrews, London, and Yale. In 2017 we launched programmes for younger students, from age 8, as well as courses for students aged 19 and over, many of whom were former students wishing to continue their education with us. We have been awarded the BETA Award for Best Educational Product an astonishing five times, and have been proud recipients of The Queen’s Award for Enterprise three times.
We have an extraordinary team of staff, all entirely committed to the transformational effect education has on a young life. These range from the counsellors on our campuses who guide students through each day and offer insights into university life, to the teachers who get to know our students well enough to introduce them to the precise topics and ideas that will inspire them, to the office staff who work with parents to ensure their children are happy, safe, and make the most of every opportunity presented to them in their time with us.
Of course 2020 was not part of anyone’s plan. When it became clear in March that we would be unable to guarantee the safety and wellbeing of our international student body that summer, we were forced to suspend our programmes for the first time in our history. Disappointed but not disheartened, we decided to rise to the challenge and move our courses online, with the firm commitment to preserving the interactivity, the excitement and the academic rigour that characterises our summer programmes. We were blown away by the dedication of our teaching staff that summer, by the positivity and intelligence of our students, and by the enduring commitment to learning and aspiration.
With this confirmation that the ORA philosophy thrives even in the face of such challenges, and with a firm commitment to innovation in a fast-changing world, we are extremely excited about the future. Education, and working globally, has never been more important and we are proud to be at the forefront of innovation in international education.