Posted on 8 February 2005
A pioneering drive by the University of York is showing hundreds of schoolchildren aged between 12 to 16 years, that university is for them – and that it's exciting and rewarding, with 50,000 different academic and vocational courses available. They also learn that student life embraces serious, fulfilling study, and a lot of fun: from science degrees to relaxing with scuba diving, biology courses to the pastime of salsa dancing.
Pioneering work by the University of York is helping to inspire youngsters to aim for the sky – educationally speaking.
Children who hadn't thought that studying for a degree, or that going on to higher education was within their grasp, are having their eyes opened to the excitement and satisfaction of studying at university by visiting the campus, and through workshops in their own schools.
The University has a team dedicated to widening participation, who show secondary school pupils in Yorkshire and further afield that university is within their reach, and that it is an exciting and affordable choice for them.
The team, which works with hundreds of youngsters every year, is currently planning a spring schedule with schools in York, North Yorkshire, Leeds, Bradford, Scarborough and Sheffield.
Together with the University's paid team of student ambassadors they run workshops and organise visits – which include overnight stays – to open youngsters' eyes to the fun and reality of campus life.
Alison McCall, the University’s Widening Participation Officer said: "When pupils come in we ask them to draw a picture of a typical student – and we get sketches of people in torn clothes, smelly and poor. We ask them what they think about university or higher education, and at that stage they say it's boring or that they are not interested.
These visits and activities really alter their perceptions of student life. They dispel a lot of myths
"When they’ve spent a couple of hours visiting us or in the workshops they see it very differently. By then they've learned about the wide range of subjects and careers open to them, how to manage costs, and all about student finances.
"We tell them about student life, including our 70 student societies and 50 sports associations – juggling, scuba diving, hot air ballooning.
"Then they get the chance to follow a 'treasure trail', and have to find their way between the TV production studio, the Health Centre, a student study-bedroom and a campus café.
"The feedback is fascinating. We've had remarks from students such as 'This has made me more aware and determined', and 'The project has been mint!' Overall they say they've learned a lot to help them make up their minds.
"We've also had constructive comments from teachers such as: 'Our students thoroughly enjoyed the visit but it has gone deeper than that – they are still talking about university with their friends and parents and are going to do a presentation to our entire year 9. It clearly was an effective attitude-changing event'.
The widening participation programme is a large one: on just one day last December Alison worked on campus with 100 students from six different Hull schools to raise their awareness of science subjects. Taster courses were run by staff from the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Electronics and Medicine. On the same day her colleague Nik Miller took a team of student ambassadors to the Kingstone Community School in Barnsley to run a workshop for 150 youngsters.
Nik added: These visits and activities really alter their perceptions of student life. They dispel a lot of myths."
The University of York also works as a partner with the Green Apples scheme, unique to the City of York and funded through the Aimhigher project. Green Apples brings together the University, York St John College, York College and Askham Bryan College, Learning City York, Connexions York, 10 schools across the city, and other education providers.
The scheme, which started in 1998, works with between 500 and 600 pupils each year. It aims to demystify and increase their awareness of higher education and to help youngsters build up the skills needed for access to higher education at some point, not just at the age of 18.
Julian Hird from Archbishop Holgates School, York, which has taken part in the Green Apples scheme, said: "Green Apples has been a wonderful project. It has allowed pupils who might not have considered higher education to access information and to acquire an understanding of the increased opportunities to be gained by continuing their education. It has most definitely 'opened the eyes', raised the expectations and provided an incentive for many pupils."
Schools' feedback from across Yorkshire on the University's work includes: