Magazine article Times Higher Education

Oxbridge Ambassador Aims to Lift Valleys from Slough of Despond: News

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Oxbridge Ambassador Aims to Lift Valleys from Slough of Despond: News

Article excerpt

Wales must encourage more applications to the elite institutions, says MP. David Matthews writes.

You might imagine that school pupils from a tough council estate in East London would have the most difficulty in reaching the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

But statistics show that the sons and daughters of former mining towns in the valleys north of Cardiff are just as unlikely to attend the elite institutions, according to the Welsh government's new "Oxbridge ambassador".

Paul Murphy is the Labour MP for Torfaen, where he grew up as a "working- class boy from the valleys" before going on to study at Oriel College, Oxford.

His ambassadorial appointment has not met with universal approval, with critics saying that the Cardiff government should concentrate on improving its own universities, and that encouraging students to leave Wales will drain the country's coffers.

"Generally speaking, Wales is sending far fewer people to Oxbridge than they did in the past 30 to 40 years," Mr Murphy said, a point he has made repeatedly in the country's press.

According to a report released last year by Mr Murphy's office, there was one application to Oxbridge for every 36 people in the City of London between 2006 and 2009, while in Blaenau Gwent, a valley to the west of Torfaen, there was one application for every 6,000 people in the same period.

Mr Murphy added that the problem lay with acceptances as well as application rates. A young person from the southwest valleys is 10 times less likely to go to Oxbridge than someone from Hertfordshire, the report argues, and five times less likely to apply.

The blame for this lay not with the universities but rather with a variety of other factors, Mr Murphy said.

Devolution in Wales has meant that "people are more conscious of their Welshness", he said, so there was "a tendency to stay local".

Mr Murphy added that as a boy he had Oxbridge graduates as teachers, but with the expansion in Welsh universities over the past couple of decades, the "majority of teachers (in Wales) would have degrees from a Welsh university so there's an assumption you go to a Welsh university".

Some Welsh schools exhibited an outright "hostility" to Oxbridge that needed to end, he said. …

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