AN OXFORD University student from Wrexham is backing a campaign to persuade more Welsh school-leavers to apply to ‘Oxbridge’.
When Thomas Chaloner, of Rhostyllen, told his parents he wanted to go to Oxford University, the first thing they said was “will we able to afford it?”
Thomas, who is now in his second year of a biology degree at Queen’s College, wants to make sure prospective Welsh applicants are not put off by the perceived cost of studying at the UK’s top universities.
Thomas, who receives a bursary, is one of a group of current Oxbridge students now speaking out to encourage more Welsh pupils to consider an education at institutions like Oxford or Cambridge.
“My parents hadn’t gone to university. I was the first person in my family to go,” said Thomas, 21.
“But when we looked into it, we realised Oxford is affordable to everyone. Oxford has one of the most generous bursary schemes in Britain. Money shouldn’t be the reason you don’t apply.”
Thomas, whose mother, Lesley, is an assistant manager in a shop, and father, Mark, is a self-employed joiner, is eligible for a bursary of between £2,000 and £2,500 a year.
“That made such a difference,” said Thomas. “You wear suits for exams, and do need money, for example, when you are invited to events that include eminent speakers from all over the world – they’re not free.
“But the bursary helps you. On my student loan, I can pay my rent and living costs and the bursary lets you do the other things. I know someone who receives £7,000 a year.”
Thomas, whose brother, Sam, is applying for an apprenticeship in plumbing, admits he didn’t consider Oxbridge until sixth-form college, where he spoke to Tim Guy, head of curriculum planning and progression at Coleg Cambria.
“He told me I had a chance. That was something I’d never heard before,” he said. Weeks after applying, Thomas received an email from Queen’s, with an invitation to an interview.
“I thought my interview went really badly. I got flustered by a debate with a lecturer and my adrenaline was rushing, so that took my attention and by the next interview it was all I could concentrate on,” he said.
“But I enjoyed and learned from it and I got in.
“I’m having the time of my life here and I want other people from my locality to pursue the same opportunities.
“I don’t think Oxford is doing anything wrong and there’s a lot of access work, but people don’t tend to hear about those from Wales going to Oxford and Cambridge, so there are fewer role models than maybe coming out of England, and it becomes a vicious circle.”
His experiences so far at Oxford have made Thomas want to study for a PGCE to become a teacher.
“It’s made me realise the importance of education, and how much it can do as a person,” he said.
“Education and learning is fun and I have Oxford to thank for that.”
Thomas added: “I feel really strongly that finance should not be anyone’s priority when they’re thinking about their education.
“There are procedures in place to make sure you get there.
“Money will not hold you back if you have the ability and determination.”
Schools and colleges in Wales can increase the number of Welsh students going to Oxford and Cambridge by working together to stretch and support their most able students, according to a report by the Oxbridge Ambassador for Wales.
In response to a 32-page report into the issue by former Welsh Secretary, Paul Murphy, being launched today at the Wales Millennium Centre, the Welsh Government is to create a “national network of partnership hubs” for more able and talented pupils, which will allow schools and colleges to share expertise and work directly with the UK’s leading universities.