Link gives student taste of Oxford life
TEENAGERS who are being encouraged to apply to top universities now have their very own Oxford don's study to use for mock interviews and research.
The room at South Cheshire College has been kitted out with a leather chair and desk, bookcases, a comfy settee and a table for students to sit round and discuss topics.
It is part of a new link-up with Oxford University's Pembroke College, which will see some of the area's brightest A-level students take part in a year-long programme of activities.
Alongside the practice interviews, they will be completing essays, attending seminars and open days, and taking part in a summer school.
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The room will also be home to visiting academics and undergraduates from Oxford, who will be working closely with the young people.
The Crewe college is acting as a regional hub for the project and AS-level students Connor Read and Louise Baddeley are the first of its students to be selected. They will be joined by others from across the North West.
The pair had to go through a rigorous interview process and are now getting to grips with their first assignment.
Connor, aged 17, from Crewe, said: "We have been given an essay to do on the British Enlightenment. In February, we will also have six sessions on different aspects of the Enlightenment. It's more university-style work."
Connor, who is studying AS-levels in maths and the three sciences, admits he had never considered applying to an elite university before.
"Neither of my parents have been to university. I didn't really know the process you go through," he added.
"From my experience, it's laughed at if you say you want to go to Oxford.
"But when you visit the place, it really opens your eyes. A lot of people think they're not intelligent enough to apply there and everyone who goes is just from private schools. But it's not true."
Louise, aged 16, who lives in Crewe, added: "It's about trying to change people's attitude that people from Crewe can't get into Oxford. They think it's just for posh people."
She is studying AS-levels in photography, geography, environmental science and biology at South Cheshire College.
Although Louise has another year to go before finalising her university options, she has already set her sights on Oxford.
She said: "I want to do biological science. I'd like to go into wildlife conservation for a career.
"Through this project, I'm learning essay skills and other things that will be valuable for university. The books are more specialised as well."
The link-up has been developed just as elite universities are facing increasing pressure to attract more teenagers from state schools and disadvantaged backgrounds.
Figures show young people from the richest 20 per cent of households are seven times more likely to go to a Russell Group university than those from the poorest 40 per cent.
Oxford has appointed its first ever access fellow, Peter Claus, to oversee the Pembroke project and he believes outreach work is crucial.
Around eight former South Cheshire College students are at Oxbridge, but there is the potential for more.
The programme has already been successful at a college in the London borough of Hackney, where the proportion of students going on to top universities has shot up by 500 per cent in three years.
Dr Claus said: "Our aim is for students to feel better prepared to make an application to Pembroke, to Oxford or to other competitive universities.
"We hope that after working with an access fellow over a full academic year, pupils will have experience of undergraduate teaching and some knowledge about the Oxford admissions process."
Linda Buchanan, who co-ordinates an 'honours' programme for South Cheshire College's highest achieving students, has also welcomed the links.
She said: "Going for an interview at Oxford can be a daunting experience. But giving students the opportunity to use the don's study will help them enormously beforehand."
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