Student hubs launched as Oxford University applications drop
New centres aimed at getting more Welsh students places at top universities have launched as the number of applications for Oxford hits a 14-year low.
A review found pupils from Wales are less likely to get into Oxbridge than those in England and Northern Ireland.
The first three of 12 centres offering specialist support are set to start in south, north and south west Wales.
Oxford applications in 2013 were the lowest since 1999, figures show.
A total of 105 students from Wales were accepted at Oxford and Cambridge, down from 144 five years earlier.
A review led by former Welsh secretary Paul Murphy found low self-esteem and a lack of academic self confidence were part of the problem.
- Three pilot hubs will offer pupils from 41 schools and colleges support and mentoring
- The first ones will cover Swansea, Flintshire, Wrexham, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf
- Another nine will be rolled out over the next 18 months
In 2013, Cambridge had 255 applications from Welsh students, just below its average in recent years.
Oxford has not yet published its 2014 figures but a spokeswoman said: "Fluctuations in application and acceptance numbers from year to year are entirely normal.
"In fact, for 2014 entry, Oxford made the highest number of offers to Welsh candidates in four years."
Education Minister Huw Lewis said successful applicants often benefited from the help of a particular teacher with experience of the admission process.
"The idea of the hubs is that they remove this element of chance and allow our most academically talented pupils to develop their skills, confidence and intellectual thinking in a supported environment," he said.
Mr Murphy, a history graduate from Oriel College, said: "Studying at Oxford University was a life-changing experience for me and I want more Welsh students to have the kind of opportunities I had."
ANALYSIS - ARWYN JONES, EDUCATION CORRESPONDENT
A lot of the discussion around the declining numbers of pupils from Wales getting into the best universities has centred around the Welsh Baccalaureate.
Paul Murphy, the Oxbridge ambassador for the Welsh government, said the baccalaureate was raised repeatedly as a concern for teachers "as it does not currently meet the requirements of academically more able and talented students" and takes up valuable space in their timetable.
There will be changes to the baccalaureate from September this year; it will be more challenging, it will be graded and will more closely resemble academic courses.
These changes have been widely welcomed but there are also those who say the changes should have been made much sooner.
Another reason given by Mr Murphy for fewer Welsh pupils getting into the top universities was that upper-end A-level performance declined between 2008 and 2012.
Put simply - if the pupils are not getting the grades, there is no way they will get in.
That situation has started to improve - last year's A-level results at A and A* were better than 2013, though still not at the same level as 2008.
So, while there is still disappointment at the current low numbers of pupils from Wales getting into Oxford and Cambridge, it seems the circumstances could be changing so the picture may well improve in future.