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Under-Represented: How to Encourage Welsh Students to Oxbridge

17/07/2014 11:20 BST | Updated 13/09/2014 10:59 BST

This piece was originally published in the Western Mail, which can be found here.

The Oxford of today is extraordinarily different from that of the past.

As time moves on, institutions change. Yet, from the outside, Oxford seems impervious to change, and the Oxford of today - my Oxford - is indeed still home to a minority of red-trousered Hooray Henries and descendants of the great and the good that populated it decades and centuries ago.

The depiction of the university as a hidebound institution content to stay locked in its ivory tower, however, is misguided. The university is champing at the bit for reform, yet there are some areas in which it is found lacking.

Oxbridge admissions for Welsh students is one of those very areas and so a year ago Paul Murphy MP was tasked with finding out the whats, hows and whys of the situation.

Why is it that Welsh students are finding it more difficult to get into Oxbridge than others? And what can we do? The report published last week took issue with a number of concerns; from lower grades, less preparation, to performance at Oxbridge's notorious interview stage.

Despite the report's encouraging ideas for a reversal in the fortunes of Welsh students, the work lacks the student voice which is desperately needed to turn the tide for gifted students across Wales.

The students I've talked to about the report all say the same - the message is spot-on, but all stakeholders must be involved if we really are to change things, and that includes us.

Effecting change in institutions like Oxford and Cambridge require some dedicated, inspired individuals who can go against the status quo, and challenge 'how things are done'.

As I mentioned previously, the universities themselves are keen to change and, more importantly, to be seen to change, yet change cannot easily come from inside - it is individuals who make the difference.

Mr Murphy's report rightly focuses on the relations between alumni, teachers and the universities, yet it lacks input from current students.

As a student at Oxford, I want more students from Wales to aspire towards Oxford and Cambridge.

From a social point of view, as the outgoing president of the Dafydd ap Gwilym (Oxford's Welsh Society), I've seen how the Welsh community at both universities can be an incredible source of friendship and fun.

From an egalitarian point of view, Wales should have as equal a standing as any other nationality, in what are simply two of the best universities in the word. The report makes little provision for this. Mr Murphy correctly outlines key ways in which we can encourage more Welsh students to apply and to succeed at Oxbridge, which include things like changing perceptions of Oxbridge, greater outreach efforts and co-operation with alumni.

These are all areas in which current students can, and indeed want to, help. This returns to my central point. The report astutely notes the multifarious problems of the Oxbridge application process for Welsh students, but relying on institutions is not the way.

Under the coalition government, we have seen students being betrayed again and again, and the value of an university education being undermined by rising fees - what is to say that this report will change that? We need change led by those who will benefit, by those for whom the Oxbridge admissions process is fresh in their minds.

Current students are best placed to help, to get things done, and to make sure that a young boy growing up in a Cardiff suburb has the best chance possible to spend four years of his undergraduate days at Oxford University.