“Learning hubs” to improve Welsh access to Oxbridge

Olly Hudson 2 February 2015

The Welsh Government has announced it will taking action to challenge the sharp fall in Oxbridge applications from Welsh students. A review, carried out by former Welsh Secretary, Paul Murphy MP, found that in 2013, only 105 successful applications were made to Oxbridge colleges, down from 144 five years previously.

As of last week, a network of “learning hubs” has been launched in three local authorities, with a further nine expected to go live later this year. Each given a one-off payment of £50,000 by the Welsh Government, the hubs hope to better prepare pupils for the rigorous application process through pooling resources and sharing best practice.

Amongst other factors, Mr Murphy cited low levels of self-esteem and a lack of academic confidence as key issues resulting in the low application rate. A history graduate from Oriel College, Oxford, Mr Murphy said: “Studying at Oxford was a life changing experience for me and I want more Welsh students to have the kind of opportunities I had”.

In an open-letter to the vice-chancellors of both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, Mr Murphy highlighted and praised the “significant investments into outreach programmes” by Oxbridge colleges, though called on the universities to go further, adding: “I feel such efforts could be extended and tailored to encourage more successful applications to Oxbridge from Wales”.

The report also highlighted concerns raised by admissions tutors regarding the compulsory post-16 Welsh Baccalaureate qualification. Criticism ranges from the relevancy of the “core” syllabus to the “wishy washy” nature of the course content itself.

Current guidelines for applicants, issued by the University of Cambridge, state that: “Applicants taking the Advanced Diploma in the Welsh Baccalaureate are expected to have studied three subjects at A Level as part of their qualification.”

While Welsh applications to Oxford University have hit a 14-year low, University of Cambridge figures for 2013 show Wales to have the second-lowest acceptance rate of all UK regions after Northern Ireland.

Magdalene College Cambridge currently has access links with North Wales and Ceredigion, while Churchill runs initiatives in the South Wales area. Commenting on the Welsh Government’s announcement, access officer for Magdalene College JCR, Connor Fowler, told The Cambridge Student:

“The new student hubs will hopefully make it much easier to get in touch with students who have the potential to apply in this region [North Wales]. The way in which we can do this is not set in stone right now, but we are currently in the process of trying to utilise the scheme.”