MOre than 60 students from state-maintained inner-city schools spent this week at Oxford University's first fully-funded summer school.
All the students' travel and accommodation has been paid for by the university. "This is a key point if Oxford is to target students from less privileged areas effectively," said Sarah Ingram, schools liaison officer at the university. "This scheme is the biggest attempt at a coherent effort so far. We have never had the funds to do something on this scale before."
John Stein, responsible for admissions at Magdalen College, said that the school is part of a strategy designed to "demystify" Oxford for state-educated students. "The proportion of state to independent sector-educated students at Oxford is roughly 50/50. The desire to increase the percentage of students from state schools led to the abolition of the entrance exam which many saw as a disincentive to some schools, especially the comprehensives. We hope this summer school also helps to demystify the image of Oxford."
Sixty-four students spent the week studying one of four subjects: physics, chemistry, history or modern languages. They attended workshops on study, interview and presentation skills and met students and college fellows.
A crash course in punting and rounders in the park headed the extracurricula activities.
The students faced fierce competition for their places. Three hundred schools were targeted and invited to nominate two students for any one of the available subject areas. Over half the schools replied, and some attempted to nominate up to eight students.
The major factors in selecting the final 64 from nearly 300 nominations were the student's choice of subject and the desire to recruit from a wide geographical area. "All the students are bright and resourceful, potential Oxford candidates," said Professor Stein. Two-thirds of the chosen students are girls, although they are the minority in the physics option.
Both Oxford and Cambridge have operated programmes to attract state-educated, working-class and ethnic-minority students in the past. These have included fostering links with comprehensive schools, as well as access and summer school programmes.
The costs of the Oxford Colleges summer school have been met by the Lampl Foundation, set up by businessman and Oxford graduate Peter Lampl. Mr Lampl, an ex-grammar school boy, said he would be delighted if the summer school encouraged applications from schools which have not traditionally applied to the university.