Are student aspirations as high in Wales as they are in England?
Paul Murphy MP was appointed as Oxbridge Ambassador to Wales in May 2013 to establish the reasons behind the decline in Welsh applications and admissions to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
His report, published in June 2014, stated that a student from the Welsh valleys is five times less likely to apply to Oxbridge than a student from Hertfordshire. And they are ten times less likely to get an offer.
Why is this? Paul Murphy MP’s report identifies five key challenges facing Wales:
- Welsh Baccalaureate – There is a perception amongst Russell Group universities that the ‘Core Certificate’ part of the Welsh Bacc is less academically demanding than an A-level
- Contextual Data – It is harder for Oxbridge admissions tutors to access contextual data about Welsh students and Welsh schools, because relevant data is either not collected or not released by the Welsh Government
- Attainment – Brighter students are not pushed as hard in Welsh schools as they are in the rest of the UK
- Teachers – Welsh teachers lack experience of and information about Oxbridge compared to their English counterparts
- Welsh nationalism – one effect of devolution has been an increase in nationalism – meaning Welsh students are more likely to opt to study in Wales.
To overcome these hurdles, Paul Murphy’s report recommended the creation of a national network of partnership hubs – the Seren Network was born!
The Seren Network is a Welsh government organisation that will be working with every school in Wales to inspire students about future career aspirations, and particularly to increase access to Oxbridge and the most competitive universities.
The Network provides students with activities and challenges on a monthly basis, incorporating Oxbridge Alumni and experts to help demystify and prepare students for their applications to Oxbridge and Sutton Trust Top 30 Universities. Last week, they launched their ambassador programme (that I’ve signed up to join) to allow alumni from the UK’s top Universities to volunteer to help shape the future of Wales’ best and brightest.
Focussing on increasing top-university access amongst low-participation students has proved successful in the past; The Access Project (founded in 2008 by Unifrog co-founder Alex Kelly), which works in schools serving particularly disadvantaged students, has achieved 63% of their students going on to the UK’s most selective Universities, this is compared to an average of 18% in the state sector, and 48% in independent schools.
The Access Project provides students with one-to-one tutoring to increase motivation, grades and assist with university applications from graduates that are experts in their fields. Although The Access Project operates at a much smaller scale than what is being attempted by the Seren Network, it’s clear that working intensively with a specific group of students can prove hugely successful in helping disadvantaged young people get in to the best universities.
A question this leads to is ‘Could English schools be doing more to increase access to top universities?’ The government in Westminster certainly seems to think that more could be done to support the most able students [https://www.gov.uk/government/news/schools-not-doing-enough-to-support-most-able-students]
Unifrog Area Manager SW England & South Wales