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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 02:05 GMT
Oxbridge heads to Tyneside
St James' Park
Venue: St James' Park, home of Newcastle United
Oxford and Cambridge universities are taking a roadshow up to the north east of England in an attempt to get more bright sixth formers to apply for undergraduate places.

Academics privately admit the move is partly in response to the Laura Spence saga which blew up in 2000 when the Tyneside comprehensive pupil was rejected from Oxford.

Laura Spence
Laura Spence failed to gain a place at Oxford
The universities have run roadshows at Wembley and the Manchester United ground for the past two years, but now the top seats of learning are adding Newcastle United's ground, Cheltenham racecourse and Sandown Park to the list.

The aim is to "dispel the myths" that surround applying to, and studying at, Cambridge and Oxford.

The universities hope the popular venues will encourage students from "non-traditional" backgrounds to apply.

Seminars at St James' Park on Friday will be led by Oxbridge tutors and undergraduates.

High demand

Liz Walker from Lifetime Careers Ltd, the company behind the Oxbridge conferences, said demand for places at the roadshows was very high, proving that the attempt to widen access was working.

"It is the first time that we have used Newcastle United as a venue for this unique conference," said Ms Walker.

"Many schools and colleges who have never sent students to Oxbridge before, have booked places at this conference.

University Boat Race
Sixth formers are urged to aim high
"Having Newcastle United as the venue for the North East Oxbridge Conference has definitely sent out the right message to young people," she said.

Director of admissions at Cambridge, Susan Stobbs, said: "There are no secret rules about getting into Cambridge and we do not have a hidden agenda.

"We want to get the message across to as many young people as possible that they can apply to Cambridge."

Her counterpart at Oxford, Jane Minto, said admissions figures showed that if more students from state schools applied to the university, more would be successful in gaining a place.

"The conferences offer us the opportunity to meet with local students and give them a chance to find out what Oxford has to offer them.

"We hope that many of those who attend the Oxbridge conferences will go for it and make an application."

'Excellent idea '

Laura Spence's former head teacher at Monkseaton Community School, Paul Kelley, welcomed their decision to come to the North East.

"It's an excellent idea for top universities to be actively recruiting from all regions in the UK," said Dr Kelley.

He did not think the Spence affair had put youngsters off applying to Oxbridge.

"Since all this business there have been more applications from state school pupils, more success and more money has been thrown at the issue of access."

See also:

29 Jun 01 | Mike Baker
Breaking with Oxbridge elitism
25 Apr 01 | Education
Laura Spence don blames families
30 Jun 00 | Education
Oxford reaches out to state schools
11 Jun 99 | Education
Oxford seeks fairer admissions tests
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