TOP students in Gwent are being encouraged by an MP to apply to the UK’s best universities.

Students from Coleg Gwent’s Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone and Cwmcarn High School met Paul Murphy, MP for Torfaen and the Welsh Government’s specially-appointed Oxbridge Ambassador, last Friday.

They talked about applying to Oxford and Cambridge and the Russell Group universities – the Russell Group are the UK’s 24 leading universities. Cardiff is the only Welsh institution among the group, while Glasgow, Edinburgh and Queens Belfast also make the list.

Mr Murphy, who studied at Oriel College, Oxford, spoke to pupils as part of an initiative to inspire students to aim as high as possible.

He said: “Oxbridge shouldn’t just be something for the sons and daughters of the privileged – it’s for everyone who has the academic ability to get in, just as it was when I went as the son of a miner from Abersychan.”

He taught at Coleg Gwent’s Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone, or the Ebbw Vale College of Further Education as it was then known, for 17 years before he was elected an MP in 1987.

The Learning Zone has an Oxbridge and Russell Group programme, which organises university visits and forges links with a number of colleges.

But it is seeking to increase their number of applications to those top universities. In the past three years, seven students have applied to Cambridge and one was awarded a place. None of their students applied to Oxford.

The Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone campus director, John Sexton, said students from the college have three Oxbridge applications pending this year. One student has already been invited for an interview at Cambridge University.

Erika Grimshaw, 17, from Ebbw Vale, is studying law, history and English literature at A-level and has an interview at Cambridge to study law.

She said: “One of my teachers told me I was bright enough and intelligent enough and had worked hard enough to apply to Oxbridge, and so I went for it and I’ve tried my hardest.”

And several Cwmcarn High students said they were planning to apply for a place on Oxford University’s 2014 UNIQ summer school.