THE BLOG

Retaining Top-Level Talent: Do Our Young People Have the Industry Support They Need to Strive for Oxbridge?

25/08/2014 14:54 BST | Updated 22/10/2014 10:59 BST

A report out this summer revealed that only 19.5% of Welsh applications to Oxford and Cambridge were successful during the 2011-12 admissions cycle, compared to a success rate of 25% for England and Northern Ireland.

An interim study released last December by the report's author, Wales' Oxbridge Ambassador Paul Murphy MP, also found national analyses to indicate that the South Wales Valleys and North East Wales experienced some of the lowest Oxbridge offer rates in the UK.

As such, the Welsh Government has agreed to pilot a hub scheme that will help schools and colleges work together with universities to support Welsh students in gaining entry into the UK's top universities.

Education and Skills Minister Huw Lewis has also pledged a deeper consideration of the full recommendations made within the report, which was commissioned to find out what could be done better to support our most able and talented students.

So parents, teachers and universities as a whole will be doing all they can to reassure Wales' brightest students that Oxbridge most definitely is an option moving forward - and moreover seem to have already been making significant changes to address this.

This month the percentage of Welsh students achieving the highest A-level grades rose for the first time in five years, and there were also 86 offers made to Welsh applicants by Oxford University this year - the highest number in four years.

In Wales 23.3% of A-level students received A* or A - up from 22.9% last year - and the gap between Wales and the rest of the UK highlighted within the Oxbridge Ambassador's Final Report has already begun to narrow.

So with the education sector already showing promise in ensuring figures continue to improve, how much responsibility should employers in Wales be taking to support this shift?

What could an improvement in take-up figures for Oxbridge from Wales mean for the economic landscape, and how culpable are employers with regards to the situation having arisen in the first place?

In drawing his conclusions, Mr Murphy claims more pressure must be put on state schools to get pupils into the UK's leading universities and says a 'lack of ambition' among teachers has been partly to blame, but is this something we are guilty of within the workplace too?

Are our young people given the confidence they need to believe that there will be a suitable job waiting for them back in Wales once their studies are finished, by the companies in Wales that all too often so desperately need them?

Because the reality is that Welsh industry most certainly does require that top level expertise if it is to continue to thrive, and the availability of these opportunities looks set only to increase as the UK economy as a whole continues its upward climb.

As investors in skills we must surely look to play our part too, therefore, and take responsibility to raise greater awareness of the vacancies available - vacancies that are often challenging and expensive to fill as the search for top level expertise goes on.

As this year's outstanding A level results show, there should be no doubt that the talent required to strengthen the Welsh economy of tomorrow is very much available here in Wales today - but it is perhaps something that, as employers, we could get better at not only cultivating, but at retaining too.