Cambridge students help strengthen the Seren Network

Cambridge students plan to return to schools in Wales as part of new initiatives to build on the success of the Seren Network, which supports Wales’ brightest students to achieve their academic potential and gain access to leading universities.

Sandy Mill, Magdalene Schools Liaison Officer, and Kirsty Williams, Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Education, at the Seren event at Magdalene

This comes in the wake of a visit to Cambridge in April by the Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams, to discuss the University’s links with the Seren Network and hear from its alumni. A special event at Magdalene College, hosted by the Master of Magdalene, Dr Rowan Williams, and attended by Trinity’s Fellow for Widening Participation, Professor Adrian Poole,  celebrated the success of the Seren Network so far, set out plans for the future, and launched the Seren Support Group and Seren Ambassadors’ Scheme.

The University of Cambridge has supported the Seren Network since its inception in 2015. Over the last two years, there has been a 15% increase in applications from Welsh state school students.

The Seren Support Group and Seren Ambassadors Scheme will heighten impact in Wales by examining and evaluating the Seren Network, further improving outreach activities, and supporting Welsh students once they are at Cambridge.

The new initiatives are enabled by Churchill, Magdalene and Trinity Colleges, alongside the Department of Education at Cambridge. Trinity has provided some start-up funding, while Magdalene works with four Seren hubs in North and West Wales, and Churchill with seven hubs in South and East Wales, as part of the University’s Area Links Scheme.

Outreach activities offered by Churchill and Magdalene include sessions on the Cambridge admissions system, refining personal statements, and preparation for interview and admissions assessments. Additionally, Seren students can take part in residential visits and masterclasses in Cambridge, as well as Sutton Trust Summer Schools.

During her visit to Cambridge where she met Welsh students, Kirsty Williams emphasized her commitment to expanding the Seren Network to work with Key Stage 3 and 4 students. Magdalene and Churchill Colleges reaffirmed their commitment to the Seren Network as it grows and develops.

Students discussing ideas with Kirsty Williams

Sandy Mill, Schools Liaison Officer at Magdalene, said: ‘We are thrilled to be able to work in collaboration with the Welsh Government to help Welsh students realise their potential, and show them that universities like Cambridge are well within their considerable talent and ability. We look forward to continuing to work with the Seren Network as it expands and we are excited to be a part of the development of a project that is showing so much promise.’

Stephen Hughes, a first-year Geography student at Churchill, said:

There was a great sense that things are moving in the right direction, with the Seren model leading the way in raising the aspirations and academic standards of Wales’ brightest young people.

Having benefited tremendously from Seren so recently when applying  to Cambridge, the event was really useful in being able to deliver fresh feedback on my experience. Extending Seren into KS3/4 is critical in normalising the fact that Oxbridge is not a far-fetched dream but something very achievable.

Kirsty Williams talks to students

Trinity students, sister and brother, Lowri Foster Davies and Harri Foster Davies, who are both studying Medicine, are keen to take part in the Ambassador Scheme. Lowri said:

I’m sure this scheme will be a great help to prospective students in Wales and aid them in making the right decision for them, whether that be choosing to study at Cambridge, Oxford or elsewhere.

Students, Kirsty Williams, Dr Rowan Williams, Professor Adrian Poole and Sandy Mill at the Seren event

Harri said:

I applied to university before the Seren Network had been established so I can see how this programme is really supporting potential applicants in areas where I previously struggled. Its role is to provide accurate information and extensive opportunities so that individuals can make informed decisions and achieve their full potential, wherever that may be.

I am particularly excited by the prospect of volunteering with the Ambassador Scheme whereby current students will be able to mentor and guide prospective applicants. This will really help to break down the perceived barriers of applying to a place like Cambridge and show that anyone with the ability and motivation can succeed here. I hope that this may also strengthen the sense of community amongst Welsh students in Oxbridge and may lead to a valuable alumni network in the future too.

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