Corhyn Horsfall from Broughton Hall High School in Liverpool is missing two weeks' holiday in Turkey to attend an Oxford University science summer school. "It's been worth it so far - it's been such a confidence booster," she said.
For the past five years the Oxford Access Scheme, run by student volunteers from Oxford University, has organised open days and school visits to encourage pupils from ethnic minorities and inner cities to apply to Oxford. This year they are running their first science summer school. Over the past ten days 39 sixth-form pupils from 35 schools in areas with high concentrations of ethnic minorities have tasted university life.
Neela Mukherjee, access scheme coordinator and a recent graduate in English from New College, Oxford, said: "Students with non-traditional backgrounds, particularly ethnic minorities, rarely apply for science degrees except medicine - a traditional vocational training with prestige and job security." This course aims to raise awareness of job opportunities for holders of other science degrees.
Angela Banks, who is in her second year at Oxford and is the science summer school coordinator, added: "We wanted to help people realise that 'inner city' and 'ethnic minority' do not automatically exclude the term 'scientist'."
This is the first access scheme to be run in close collaboration with business. British Telecom has donated full use of its training centre, accommodation, food and sports facilities. Sponsorship by Unilever means students attending have to find only travelling costs. "Our support emphasises our commitment to equal opportunities," said Earlette Blake, race equality manager at BT. "In the longer term we hope it will also increase science and technology skills in the workforce."
Pupils attend lectures, seminars and workshops at the BT training centre in Milton Keynes. University staff give lectures in biology, chemistry, maths and physics and BT personnel give training in interpersonal and transferable skills. Recent graduates or undergraduates from Oxford are constantly on hand to be quizzed about life there.
Just four days into the course all the students expressed amazement at how much more confident they felt about applying for higher education in general and Oxford in particular.
Majid Khan from Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College in Birmingham said: "I thought students at Oxford all wore long scarves, cycled everywhere and wouldn't know what a football looked like. But now I know they are really just like us."
Most of the pupils had already decided to apply for higher education but many had not considered Oxford within their reach, thinking it "was for high-class people with money". Many had now changed their minds. Vikas Shah, also from Joseph Chamberlain, said: "I know it will still be tough to get in but this course has given me a little lift up the ladder."
The scheme has grown from taking 12 ethnic minority students in 1992 to 36 last year, all of whom went on to higher education, ten to Oxford.