New funding to target “low expectation” students in England and Wales

Students from areas of “low expectation” are being targeted by Oxford University in new outreach projects launched this week.

Both the English and Welsh governments have announced new funding for projects aiming to support students from areas with traditionally low engagement with Oxford and Cambridge as part of a wider project to encourage young people into Higher Education.

This will be delivered through separate initiatives in Wales and England, due to the localised nature of the projects.

The launch of the first three Welsh “Schools Hubs”, centres dedicated to supporting these students, was held in Cardiff last week.

Jesus College has been particularly involved in this process, with links to two schools within these hubs: Gower College for Swansea and St John Baptist High School for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Dr Beth Mortimer, Access Fellow for Jesus College, commented: “As a College with a historical link with Wales and a long-standing commitment to access, we are delighted to be involved in the new hubs being established in Wales which seek to increase the number of successful applications to Oxbridge. As Access Fellow, I’m very excited to be a part of this initiative and hope to provide academic-based activities to the hubs to support their students over the long term.”

Welsh applications to Oxford University in 2013 hit a 14-year low. A review into this lead by former Welsh secretary, Paul Murphy, found “low self esteem” and “lack of academic self confidence” to be key to the problem of attracting Welsh applicants.

Emily Bamber, a first-year at St Peter’s from North Wales, commented: “My school had only just started even bothering to help students consider Oxbridge this year, because I think the access team had only just got in contact with them. I don’t think I’d have considered it without the access people coming to visit and give talks”.

Benjamin Sadler, Caplan of Oxford University Welsh Society and Jesus College member, added: “The Welsh have a long tradition of studying at this university, and at Jesus College in particular. I hope that this initiative will insure that tradition’s continuation in future years. However, while I am pleased to see that the Welsh Government has launched this initiative, I have to ask whether the current policy of using the higher education budget to subsidise students choosing to leave Wales benefits Wales in the long term.”

Oxford University has also become a member of National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (NNCO), a £22 million government scheme aiming to reach 1600 English schools with low engagement with Oxford and Cambridge. This will work in partnership with the Welsh government’s “School Hubs”.

The initiative plans to create a new website with online seminars from admissions staff and a single resource for information about access events for both universities. The universities hope that online resources will improve communications with prospective students from schools with a low number of high-achieving students, in addition to those situated in geographically hard-to-reach areas. More locally, there will be increased resources available for schools linked with colleges.

Dr Samina Khan, director for undergraduate admissions and outreach, stated: “Oxford’s work with the National Networks for Collaborative Outreach will add to the already significant amount of targeted access work the collegiate University undertakes across the UK.

“While this particular programme is funded by the government and Hefce to target students in English schools, the resources Oxford will be making available include a substantial amount of online support that can be accessed by anyone across the UK.”

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