Vee Kativhu at Lady Margaret Hall.jpg


Vee Kativhu returns to Oxford and updates QUAD on her organisation Empowered by Vee

Published: 2 July 2024

Author: Richard Lofthouse


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How quickly time flies by. Varaidzo (Vee) Kativhu (LMH, 2017) was part of the first cohort of students to participate in Oxford’s original Foundation Year, created and run at Lady Margaret Hall. Today, June 14 2024, she’s back at LMH having just flown on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles, where she is a PhD student for Education Leadership, at Claremont Graduate University.

We meet in LMH’s Senior Common Room but are then lent the book-lined, light-filled study of English tutorial fellow Professor Sophie Ratcliffe – and she leaves us to it with Vee’s personal assistant shooting some video for the next Instagram reel and wonderful views over LMH’s main quadrangle, speckled with wild flowers mown into a delicate spiral.

Remarkably, not only is Vee back to give a plenary speech at an event honouring the University’s Astrophoria Foundation Year, an expanded programme inspired by the original LMH initiative. She will in July collect an Honorary Doctorate at Bradford University, placing her in what must be a vanishingly small number of individuals to have picked up an honorary doctorate while studying for a real one.

Inspirationally, she has during the intervening years built a considerable social media following around her organisation Empowered by Vee.

She came to Oxford at the same time as Malala Yousafzai and both women were students at LMH, studying at Oxford’s first women’s college 2017-2020. Both women describe themselves as educational activists, as well as friends and mutual supporters, says Vee.

Eight years later and the first cohort of Astrophoria scholars, 22 in total, are about to complete their first year at Oxford. These students are all matriculated at Oxford and can progress to undergraduate study if they pass the foundation year course at the required level. As in previous years, many of them will go on to commence their full time study as first year undergraduates at Oxford.

Now 26, Vee graduated from Oxford in Classical Archaeology and Ancient History before pursuing a Master of Education degree at Harvard, which she says landed her right amidst the COVID-19 crisis and meant that too much of the learning was remote. Yet, she reminds me, she went straight online and began a series of support videos for other students, called The Studytube Project. ‘We acted faster than the government!’ she says.

As a young student, Vee had aspired to attend a Russell Group University from her home base in Dudley, part of the broader conurbation between Wolverhampton and Birmingham, but she did not feel equipped to do so as someone from an underrepresented and low socio-economic background. 

Empowered by Vee is part online presence and part in-person gatherings rooted in an annual August one day ‘conference’ that began as a ‘meet and greet’ – a common part of a scenario where someone builds a lot of online support and then takes it offline, a bit like a celebrity podcaster doing a live, ticketed event.

But it all began much more radically and simply than that.

‘I put down my suitcase on arrival at LMH, and I thought, ‘OK so this is Oxford University. Why is no one talking about this?’ And she talked about it, and did so naturally and enthusiastically as someone who wants other under-represented talent to succeed where so often it fails.

‘I want young people not to waste their talent! I want them to have resources, to have conversations, to push themselves, to have accountability for themselves. The annual event has recently been held in London. Oxford is mentioned because I went there but it is not about Oxford or Oxbridge. It’s about the importance of higher education as a powerful tool of personal transformation.’

Vee firmly believes that there is an abundance of capable young people who are slipping through the system. Vee set up Empowered By Vee to offer the support she wished she had as a sixth form and university student.

More than that, Empowered by Vee is not restricted to the UK but has global elements. If the blog posts are mostly about really practical tips of being a top student – everything from time management tips to networking hacks – some of the posts are about women’s education in India and women’s education in Afghanistan, or celebrating Black History month back here in the UK.

The mixed formula works because it allows everyone to locate themselves. Empowered by Vee pushes especially hard for women of colour while reminding readers that if the UK still has barriers so it remains hard to even progress schooling beyond the age of 14 in other parts of the world, especially if you are female.

Vee’s own story has a bearing on her mission. Her father died when she was a child in Zimbabwe, and she came to the UK age 7, with her sister, joining their mother who had moved to the UK previously.  

I ask about online hate and all the other unsavoury aspects of being an influencer. She laughs it off – she says that where she encounters racism she immediately renders it harmless by defining it as ‘a you problem, not a me problem’. What’s tough is where she receives a massive number of notes from girls in other parts of the world where harm is all around them or about to befall them.

‘I cannot in practice act to stop a particular situation even though it is heartbreaking to hear the story, she says. I give myself grace to observe practical limits, to stick to doing what I can do. The reality is that were I to pick up each of these requests for advice or help, I would be tapping out text messages all day long every day. I would get nothing done.’

Instead, Vee is immersed in her own PhD studies at Claremont, one of seven colleges that broadly imitate some aspects of the Oxford, collegiate system. While she could easily decide not to pursue the PhD to its conclusion she instead seems completely committed to it – it’s who she actually is. ‘I love education, I love study – it’s the making of me and it should be the making of many more people like me.’


Empowered By Vee serves students who feel underrepresented and disempowered, targeting students during the transitional stages of higher education (pre-application, at university, and early career).


The University of Oxford’s Astrophoria Foundation Year is a one-year fully-funded foundation programme for UK state school students with significant academic potential, who have experienced severe personal disadvantage and/or disrupted education which has resulted in them being unable to apply directly for an Oxford undergraduate degree programme.

It enables motivated students to reach their academic potential through a supportive and challenging academic course aimed at developing their skills, self-belief and academic confidence.

The first cohort of Astrophoria Foundation Year students started their studies at the University of Oxford on 24 September 2023, taking part in an orientation week before the start of term. Twenty-two young people from across the UK are the first students on the fully funded programme, which is designed to help bridge the gap between A-levels and the challenging undergraduate degrees at Oxford.

Picture credit: University of Oxford/Richard Lofthouse