YOUNGSTERS in Gwent are as bright as any others and deserve support and encouragement to aim high, the MP for Torfaen has said.

Paul Murphy spoke after he said low self-esteem and a lack of academic confidence are getting in the way of Welsh pupils applying for Oxford and Cambridge in a report to the Welsh Government.

Mr Murphy, who has been appointed Oxbridge Ambassador for Wales, found many students still believe that they lack some specialist knowledge required to successfully apply to the UK’s top universities.

He is due to publish a final report on the matter next summer, but in his interim study said too many bright Welsh applicants appear to suffer from low self-esteem and lack academic self-confidence, which either stops them from applying or undermines their ability to do themselves justice.

Mr Murphy, who is a former Welsh and Northern Ireland secretary, said: “I’ve been speaking to pupils, teachers, lecturers and parents around Wales as part of this project, but as a young person from the Gwent valleys who went to Oxford, giving other local youngsters that chance is particularly close to my heart.

“Our young people here in Gwent are as bright as any others and they deserve all the support and encouragement in the world to aim high. I hope that my final report in the summer will give the recommendations that are needed to spread the best practice that exists in Wales and enable more of our young people to get into our top universities.”

Between 2008 and 2012 22.6 per cent of applications to Cambridge from Wales were successful, compared to 27.3 per cent in England, and 31.5 per cent in Northern Ireland.

Just 17.4 per cent of applications from Wales to Oxford University in 2012 were accepted, compared to 24 per cent in England and 22.3 per cent in Northern Ireland.

Nick Thomas-Symonds is an Oxford university politics lecturer who lives in Abersychan and grew up in Torfaen, Mr Murphy’s constituency.

Mr Thomas-Symonds, 33, who is also a barrister in Cardiff, studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the institution between 1998 and 2001 and now interviews budding students wanting to go to the university.

“The one thing that tallied with me locally is that Oxbridge isn’t for them. I think that is something we’ve really got to address. We have got some terrifically talented people in Torfaen,” he said.

“The problem is the number that apply and sit the attendance test and come to interview in the first place.”