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Welsh Education Minister to visit University of Oxford to celebrate its student outreach links to Wales

Written by on 19th August 2021

Jeremy Miles MS, Minister for Education and the Welsh Language in the Welsh Government, is to visit the University of Oxford on Thursday 19th August 2021, to learn more about the University’s strong links with young people and educational institutes of Wales, and the innovative programmes in place to encourage and support academically-gifted school students in applying to top universities in Wales and across the UK.

The College has maintained a strong connection with Wales since its founding in 1571 by a group of Welshmen led by Hugh Price, Treasurer of St David’s Cathedral. Its first fellows were mostly Welsh lawyers and as a result, for centuries, Jesus was known as Oxford’s ‘Welsh college’. Today Jesus College welcomes undergraduate and graduate students from across the globe, but its links to Wales continue through a unique model of collaborative activities with the University and other Oxford colleges, dedicated to improving access and equity in opportunity for school students across the country.

In 2020, the College, in partnership with St Catherine’s College and New College Oxford, took responsibility for delivering Access and Outreach programmes for the whole of Wales on behalf of the University of Oxford; a consortium called Oxford Cymru. The consortium has been working closely with the Welsh Government to expand its reach – especially in the largely rural and coastal communities of mid and North Wales which experience the greatest disparities in educational attainment.

In particular, Jesus College works in partnership with the Welsh Government’s Seren programme, a model unique to Wales which supports the brightest year 8-13 students from Welsh state schools and FE colleges to help them achieve their full academic potential; a historic collaboration that dates back to 2016. The College delivers two flagship Seren summer schools for hundreds of Welsh state school students each year: over a thousand have participated in the competitive study experiences since 2016, with 406 attending two events in 2021.

The Minister’s visit coincides with the annual Seren-Jesus College Residential Summer School, delivered and hosted by the College, which is now in its 5th year. Mr Miles, who is himself an Oxford alumnus (BA Jurisprudence, New College, 1989) will attend Jesus College to meet Dr Williams and colleagues, and some of the 76 summer school participants. The fully-funded one-week residential school aims to provide year 12 students with an immersive university experience that gives them realistic taste of what studying at Oxford is like, and to encourage them to apply by showing that they have the ability to make applications to leading universities including Oxford. The week includes tutorials, seminars and lectures that place an emphasis on academic engagement, and aim to equip participants with the information, resources, inspiration and motivation to make competitive applications.

The summer school series also includes the Seren International Online Summer School, hosted in conjunction with partners Equal Education, which is designed to introduce Year 12 Seren students to the critical ways of thinking required in higher education and demanded by leading universities both in the UK and overseas. Many previous summer school attendees are now studying in the US at leading institutions including Yale, Harvard, and Stanford.

Jesus College’s strong connection to Wales has been further enhanced thanks to the support of several Welsh alumni and one very famous Welsh actor. Last year, the summer school series was secured in perpetuity by the generosity of an endowment from Mr Oliver Thomas, a Jesus alumnus.

In April this year, Jesus College announced the Michael Sheen Bursary – a new bursary scheme that will provide much-needed financial support for Welsh undergraduate students. The Michael Sheen Bursary has been developed in collaboration with, and is generously supported by, eminent Welsh actor and activist Michael Sheen, and will support students from across Wales. Recipients of the Michael Sheen Bursary will be means-tested, based primarily on household income criteria. Economic inequity is a known barrier to Welsh school students pursuing courses in leading universities, and a barrier that Jesus College, and the University more broadly, is working hard to overcome.

Dr Matthew Williams, Access Fellow of Jesus College, says, “About 70% of the 10,000 young people we work with annually through our wider outreach and access activities come from Wales, and we are committed to encouraging and enabling academically-gifted young Welsh students to apply to Oxford and other leading universities in the UK, Our work through the Oxford Cymru consortium and the Seren programme are essential to delivering on this commitment, enabling us to embrace the depth of knowledge and experience necessary to make an impact.

He added, “We understand that disadvantaged students can face financial inequalities that create a barrier to embracing the full benefit that an Oxford education can offer, so bursaries such as the Michael Sheen Bursary provide a tremendous opportunity to support Welsh students at Jesus College, making their experience more equitable, and reassuring them that Oxford is for everyone, regardless of background.”

Data shows that such innovative programmes are having an impact. There has been a 20% increase in applications from Welsh state schools to Oxford, and a 55% increase in admissions from 2016-2020. In 2019/20, 10% of all applications from Welsh students to Oxford came from Seren summer school participants.

   

During his visit, the Minister will also meet with Helen Charlesworth, Senior Executive Officer in the University’s Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach Department, Lois Williams a co-designer of the international summer school course, Seren ambassador and alumna of Jesus College, along with Tomos Wood also a co-designer of the course and Seren ambassador recently graduated from Queens’ College, Cambridge. Welcoming Mr Miles will be Rhian Edwards, Deputy Director for Further Education and Apprenticeships at the Welsh Government, and Rhian Griffiths, Head of Seren.

Speaking of his visit and the unique relationship between the Welsh Government, Jesus College and the University of Oxford, the Minister said, “I’m very pleased to be here today to mark Wales’ longstanding and continued links with Jesus College and the University of Oxford more broadly, and to join the Year 12 Seren Academy learners.

“The links between Jesus College and Wales date back centuries, and all those attending the residential summer school can be proud not just of their fantastic achievements, but also that they are continuing a longstanding tradition of learners from Wales going on to study at some of the best universities in the world.

“Since starting in 2016, our Seren programme has gone from strength to strength, and summer schools such as these play a vital role in building the confidence and raising the ambitions of Welsh learners, and ensuring they know that the world’s leading universities are within their reach too.”

After a special lunch at the College, the Minister will give a welcome address to the Seren-Jesus College Residential Summer School attendees who are taking part in a ‘Balloon Debate’ in the University Examination Schools, and present prizes to the winning students. He’ll then visit his alma mater, New College, for an evening dinner. Daniel Powell, Head of Outreach at New College, says, “This year marked the creation of the ‘Wales Consortia’, an initiative which New College is incredibly proud to be a part of.  We hope that the students enrolled on the Seren Summer School have a rewarding and inspiring week of study in Oxford.  Of course, the opportunity to socialise is also an important trait of University life, and we look forward to welcoming them, as well as New College graduate, Mr Miles, for a celebratory dinner.”

Dr Williams says, “We are delighted to be welcoming the Minister to the College and to share with him just some of the innovate work we do with school students from across Wales to support, encourage and inspire them as they consider a university education during their time at Oxford.”