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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Welsh Education Minister visits Jesus College to celebrate outreach to Wales

Estelle Atkinson reports on Jeremy Miles MS’ visit to Jesus College.

Estelle Atkinson
Estelle Atkinson
Former Editor-in-Chief (TT22)

Jesus College was visited by Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, on Thursday August 19th. 

The Minister said of his visit: “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.”

The Minister came to learn about the University’s, and particularly Jesus’, strong connections with Welsh educational institutions and the ways in which the University supports students applying to top universities in Wales and across the UK. After lunch at the College, the Minister gave a welcome address to the Seren-Jesus College Residential Summer School attendees.

Jesus College, colloquially known as the ‘Welsh College’, has maintained strong ties with Wales since its founding by Hugh Price in 1571. Today, these ties are nurtured through a number of access initiatives such as Oxford Cymru, an access partnership maintained by Jesus, St Catherines, and New Colleges. The partnership works with the Welsh government to offer opportunities to students in rural and coastal areas of Central and North Wales. 

Jesus College works closely with the Welsh Government’s Seren programme, which supports the brightest year 8-13 students from Welsh state schools and FE colleges in reaching their full academic potential. Two Seren summer schools are hosted at Jesus each year, with over a thousand students having participated in the program since 2016.

The Minister’s visit coincided with one such Seren Summer School: the fifth annual Seren-Jesus College Residential Summer School. Miles met and spoke with the summer school participants. The residential course is designed to give students a taste of Oxford life and in turn encourage them to apply to study. Students in the program have the opportunity to attend tutorials, seminars, and lectures. 

Miles also met with Dr Matthew Williams, Access Fellow of Jesus College. Dr Williams said: “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.”

Jesus’ Welsh ties are also strengthened by its Welsh alumni and prominent Welsh figures. The summer school series was recently secured in perpetuity thanks to an endowment from Mr. Oliver Thomas, a Jesus alumnus. Additionally, earlier this year Jesus announced the Michael Sheen Bursary, which will provide financial support for Welsh undergraduate students. The Bursary has been developed in collaboration with Welsh actor and activist Michael Sheen and will operate on a means-tested basis, primarily using household income criteria. 

Dr Williams 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.”

Since the implementation of these access schemes, there has been a 20% increase in applications from Welsh state schools to Oxford and a 55% increase from 2016-2020. In 2019/20, 10% of all applications to Oxford by Welsh students came from Seren summer school participants. 

The Minister also met 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; and Tomos Wood – also a co-designer of the course and Seren ambassador who recently graduated from Queens’ College, Cambridge. He was also welcomed by Rhian Edwards, Deputy Director for Further Education and Apprenticeships at the Welsh Government, and Rhian Griffiths, Head of Seren.

Miles continued: “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.”

The Minister concluded his day with dinner at his alma mater, New College. Daniel Powell, Head of Outreach at New, said of the event: “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 in 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.” 

Image: Jesus College

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