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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 15:06 GMT
Elite uni aims to broaden its appeal
Bristol University
Bristol: Relatively few state school entrants
Bristol is one of the most competitive universities to get into and the city has among the highest living costs in the UK.

A university shouldn't be judged by its input it should be judged by its output

Prof Eric Thomas, Bristol University
Bristol University also has a reputation for elitism which is borne out by the statistics.

Outside Oxbridge, it has the smallest proportion of students from state school backgrounds: 57%.

So it is unlikely to have a natural appeal for students from poorer families with no tradition of going to university - the sort of people ministers want to attract into higher education.

But the vice-chancellor, Eric Thomas, said it was only a matter of fairness to try to reach them.


"We've got untapped talent in a significant proportion of our population that we're just not getting into university and not giving to the country afterwards," Prof Thomas said.

Bristol was using "a huge raft of initiatives" to try to address the issue.

"Things like summer schools in which we bring students to the university during the summer to see it, we have relationships with local schools and further education colleges.

"We go to parts of the country which are not actually seeing our university to try advertise the university."

'World class'

He resents the term "dumbing down".

Eric Thomas: Making an effort
"Imagine what message it sends to those students who are coming from those backgrounds," he told Breakfast on BBC One.

"And a university shouldn't be judged by its input it should be judged by its output.

"We will take anybody from any diverse background that can work at our university, and our output will be of world class graduates."

At Bristol's students' union, the welfare vice-president, Sheila Docherty, said it mattered that universities should be diverse institutions because they were so formative.

Range of people

"University life is probably the steepest learning curve you're going to have," she said.

"That is when you meet probably the widest range of people that you're ever going to meet and that develops you as a person and how you go on to live your life later on."

Second-year student Guy Davies is from a poorer, non-academic background.

He said Bristol was OK as long as you lived within your means - "as long as you don't drink too much and as long as you don't go out for take-aways all the time".

"You get to meet all sorts of people," he said.

"Bristol might have this reputation for having a lot of people from non-state school backgrounds but you get to meet everybody really," he said.

'Have a go'

Encouragement for teenagers to "have a go" at trying for a top university has also come from a student's mother.

Carla Randle-Conde of Crewe told BBC News Online it had never occurred to her son Aidan to apply to Oxford until a college fellow who knew his tutor at school invited a group to visit.

"The group were so impressed that several did apply. Aidan went up to Trinity College to read physics in October.

"He was welcomed with open arms by the college, has suffered from no snobbery or class discrimination at all and is receiving excellent teaching in small groups."

FE college

She said he had also made lots of friends and was enjoying "a wild student life".

"Aidan attended state 'bog standard' schools and the local further education college and comes from an ordinary working-class family," she said.

For his parents there is the comfort of knowing he is protected to an extent within Oxford's collegiate system.

"Aid feels part of a big family and never suffers isolation or loneliness, which can be so dangerous for teenagers leaving home for the first time," his mother said.

"I would recommend Oxford to any clever student and their parents. Go for it!"

The BBC's Jane O'Brien
Bristol's vice-chancellor and students
See also:

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20 Nov 00 | Scotland
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