Wales' students lack Oxbridge confidence, says Paul Murphy

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Media captionSeventy six students from Wales won places at Oxford and Cambridge last year

Many teenagers in Wales are put off from applying to Oxford and Cambridge Universities because of a lack of self-confidence, says a report.

The man tasked with getting more Welsh children into Oxbridge said teachers often lacked practical advice to offer pupils applying to top universities.

Former Welsh secretary Paul Murphy said pupils should be helped to "aim for the stars".

The Torfaen MP publishes his interim report on Friday.

The number of pupils accepted into Oxbridge from Wales has been falling.

Figures have shown the number of comprehensive pupils getting into Oxbridge fell from 96 in 2008 to 76 in 2012.

Mr Murphy, appointed to the Oxbridge role by the Welsh government, has been asked to establish why pupils from England and Northern Ireland were more likely to be accepted than those from Wales.

"I want all our young people to have the opportunity to realise their educational dreams, whichever path they choose - whether that is Oxbridge, another university, training or an apprenticeship," said Mr Murphy, who studied history at Oriel College, Oxford.

"They should be given all the support and encouragement needed to aim for the stars," he said.

He has said previously students from the south Wales valleys were five times less likely to apply to Oxford or Cambridge than students in some of the more affluent English counties.

The initial findings of Mr Murphy's interim report come from conversations with pupils, parents, teachers and lecturers across Wales and to students, tutors and admissions staff at Oxford and Cambridge over a six-month period.

Image caption Paul Murphy is a graduate of Oxford

Initial findings include:

  • Students in Wales have a lower success rate for admission to Oxford and Cambridge than students from England and Northern Ireland in the last five years
  • A smaller proportion of students from Wales are achieving top grades at GCSE (5 A*s) and A-Level (3 As) than in England and Northern Ireland
  • Too many bright Welsh applicants appear to suffer from low self-esteem and to lack academic self-confidence

Mr Murphy added: "Some of the students I spoke with consider Oxford and Cambridge to be elitist institutions, where background and social class are important.

"These misconceptions can prevent students from applying and cause added anxiety during the application process.

"Those Welsh students who are capable of flourishing in these systems deserve the opportunity to compete on a level playing field with all other applicants."

There have been accusations previously that there was little support from the Welsh government for schools trying to get pupils into the very best universities.

'Realise their potential'

But Education and Skills Minister Huw Lewis said ministers wanted young people to "aim high regardless of their background" which was why Mr Murphy had been appointed.

"I thank him for his work so far and look forward to considering his interim and final report in due course, which will contribute to our widening access agenda," said Mr Lewis.

"We're always keen to learn how we can help our young people to realise their potential and get the qualifications that they need to enter the universities they aspire to."

Richard Partington, senior tutor at Churchill College, Cambridge, said Mr Murphy and his staff had taken an "admirably deep dive into the question of Welsh applications and admissions to Oxford and Cambridge".

"We welcome his interim report. His ideas are interesting and important, and his plans for the direction of future research on the issue persuasive," he said.

"We look forward to receiving his final views in due course."

Oxford University said it was in its interests to attract the brightest students in Wales to study there.

Mike Nicholson, director of undergraduate admissions and outreach at Oxford, said: "The university does a lot of work with schools and teachers in Wales to provide information and encouragement for talented students to make a competitive application to Oxford, and many Welsh students join our annual UNIQ summer school where they experience what it is like to live and study in Oxford.

"But we know that attainment in schools is a major barrier to increasing the number of Welsh students at Oxford, while some talented students feel that places like Oxford and Cambridge are not for them, so we will look at the findings of this report with interest."

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