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Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 23:14 GMT 00:14 UK
University scheme 'total success'
Liverpool John Moores
The government wants more people to go to college
A university scheme to recruit 16 year olds from deprived backgrounds, who thought higher education was not for them, has achieved a 100% success rate.

Two years ago 50 youngsters signed up to the Step-up initiative, piloted by the University of Ulster in Londonderry - all but one said they would never even consider going to university.

University of Ulster
The students spend 50% of their time at University of Ulster
Now, having sat Vocational A-levels in science-based subjects, all of the students have passed their exams and are heading off to university to study subjects such as sports science, physiotherapy and radiography.

Many of the students got A and B grades, the others scored C grades, but there were no D and E grades or failures in the whole group.

Step-up director, Dr Damian O'Kane, said the students selected were from backgrounds of severe social disadvantage.

Up to 75% of the teenagers' parents, if they were around, were unemployed and some of the students were from homes where overcrowding was a problem with 10 or 12 siblings vying for space, said Dr O'Kane.

Vocational emphasis

The students were identified by their schools as having ability but lacking in motivation, and were then given one-to-one interviews.

Dr O'Kane said many of the students were antagonistic towards the scheme to start with, but were encouraged to give it a try for a month - none dropped out.

university bar
The government wants 50% of those under 30 in higher education by 2010
The Step-up initiative sees students spend 50% of their time in school and 50% at the university campus.

They are also taught in local industries and hospitals - the emphasis being on vocational learning.

'Initially reluctant'

One of the Step-up students, Gillian McKeown, who is now preparing to study biomedical sciences at the University of Ulster, said: "Many of us were initially reluctant to take part in Step-up because we did not feel that university was for us.

"We are all now happy that we did participate because our involvement opened up a new world of science education and prepared us for further study at a university.

"The Step-up programme has been invaluable in helping my science education.

"It has encouraged interest and enthusiasm and, throughout the two years, I have had guidance and support at all times."

More students

Following the students' success, the university will now lay on a special mentoring support system for the 50 students in their first year at college to help them ease into academic study.

The university's programme is in tune with the government's drive to widen participation in higher education.

By 2010, the government wants at least 50% of those aged under 30 to experience higher education.

The University of Ulster received three years' funding from the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland for the Step-up scheme, but is now calling on the government to help it continue its success with further funding.

It is hoping to expand its scheme in Northern Ireland and believes it could prove successful in other parts of the UK.

'Try harder'

The university's vice-chancellor, Professor Gerry McKenna, said universities had to work harder to recruit students from deprived backgrounds.

"We have shown that carefully planned interventionist programmes such as Step-up can impact meaningfully on communities that have not previously seen success in education, and particularly higher education, as an attainable aspiration.

"There are many more students in Northern Ireland that can benefit from this scheme and we are determined to expand it further.

"No society can fulfil its true economic, social or cultural potential, or maintain stability, which does not seek to utilise the range of talents of all its people."

See also:

22 Oct 01 | Education
20 Aug 02 | Education
16 May 01 | Education
29 Jun 01 | Mike Baker
20 Nov 00 | Scotland
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