Oxford in charm offensive aimed at FE colleges

SIX OXFORD colleges are planning a ground-breaking initiative to encourage applications from students at further education colleges better known for vocational training than academic high-flyers.

Senior academics believe they may be missing the chance to recruit thousands of bright teenagers, often from working-class backgrounds, because they do not consider Oxbridge as an option.

Under the scheme, being pioneered by Mansfield College, the university will run open days for FE students and will offer special induction courses for those who win a place. Academics are also hoping to appoint a full-time admissions officer to work with FE colleges across the country.

Professor David Marquand, principal of Mansfield, the university's newest college, said: "What we are trying to do is to set up the equivalent of the links of relationships that have existed in many cases between famous public schools and ancient Oxbridge colleges."

Applicants invited for interview will be offered an increased chance by being interviewed at two colleges, not just one. Academics will announce the consortium's make-up this month. A five-year pilot is expected to start next year.

The scheme will be aimed at students from general further education colleges, rather than specialist sixth form colleges, which already have a good record at securing Oxbridge entries. Admissions statistics show that while general FE colleges taught 140,300 A-level students last year, just 400 applied to Oxford and only about 100 won a place.

Professor Marquand said: "We will not favour FE students, but we do want them to apply.

"We will be in the business of making the assumption that there is a pool of talented, quite high A-level achievers. We are gambling on there [being] very bright people out there from backgrounds not associated with Oxbridge."

He indicated that admissions tutors may be able to stray from the requirement of three A grades.

"There's nothing to stop a teacher saying, `I like this guy, he's really bright and we are prepared to take a risk'."