TOP students from further education colleges are being encouraged to apply to Oxford University under a new scheme designed to attract FE's high fliers to the city of dreaming spires.
Mansfield College, one of Oxford's newest colleges, believes FE students are a "pool of untapped talent" and is launching initiatives aimed at increasing their representation at the prestigious university.
Last year 370 people applied to Oxford from further education but they were the group of applicants least likely to win a place. Only 26 per cent were accepted - compared with more than 40 per cent among state and private school applicants - just 107 out of 3,219 first-year undergraduates had an FE background.
"Looking through the figures we noticed a huge gap in the applications from further education colleges," said John Muddiman, academic dean at Mansfield.
Alarmed by the fall in FE applicants over the past five years, the college commissioned a survey to get to the root of the problem.
Mr Muddiman said: "We found they were deselecting themselves, they were not applying or not being encouraged to apply."
The college is now seeking funding for a full-time admissions tutor to target FE applicants. They are also hoping to organise two-day "shadowing" visits to give students a taste of life at the university, an e-mail mentoring scheme so that current students can answer questions and a two-week summer school to help explain Oxford's tutorial system.
Mansfield already has a higher state-sector intake than the Oxford average - 58 per cent compared to 46 per cent - and it is hoping that targeting FE will help them achieve their target of 75 per cent.
"At the moment we are simply not interviewing enough FE applicants so we are not being give the chance to offer them places."