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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 July, 2005, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
'More pupils' consider university
students at Aimhigher roadshow
Roadshows have tried to get students to "aim higher"
A government scheme aimed at getting disadvantaged youngsters in England to go to university is raising their aspirations, research suggests.

An interim report for the Department for Education and Skills found the exam results of teenagers targeted by the Aimhigher programme had improved.

Research director Marian Morris said this early impact was a surprise.

But it was too early to say whether more of them would go to university, and money was a worry for many.


Aimhigher is an amalgamation of schemes begun in 2001 to increase the number of disadvantaged young people in England who had the qualifications and aspirations to enter higher education.

One part involves allocating youngsters to target groups, pre-16 and post-16.

The other main part includes summer schools, visits to universities and mentoring by undergraduates and academics.

An evaluation is being done by a team from the National Foundation for Educational Research, the London School of Economics and the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Its interim report dealt with students from the first two years.

It said there were indications that teachers' and lecturers' preconceptions about the young people had been challenged.

Parental influence

Ms Morris said some teachers felt "young people from here don't go into higher education" - or their awareness of the courses on offer was limited.

Parents - and communities - were also very important.

"They are clearly a key influence on young people but how do you change their attitudes and get them to see higher education as positive?"

There could be a "push factor" - "there's nothing for them round here".

But some felt threatened by the idea of their children being better educated than they were, she said - "I don't want them telling me what to do".

Undergraduates could have a big influence on making higher education "cool in school" - because rather than "some ageing careers adviser", it was 19 and 20-year-olds saying "university is magic", the report noted.

Money worries

A surprising finding after only a few years of the scheme was that the pre-16 group had higher levels of achievement in their tests and exams.

It might be that greater awareness of the possibility of going to university had been a spur that had made them think "well, maybe I could do this", Ms Morris said.

But attainment among children entitled to free school meals - a poverty indicator - "remained significantly lower across all measures", the report said.

And children in the scheme who said in Year 10 (aged 14 and 15) that they did not want to go to university were no more likely to have changed their minds a year later than those not targeted.

But Ms Morris said it was too soon to tell. Their decisions were not yet firm.

Money was a significant factor for many families, who did not want to have thousands of pounds' worth of debt as a result of being a student - coupled with the loss of earnings for several years.

From next year, students in England will face university tuition fees of 3,000 a year - but repayable after graduation, and with grants and bursaries for the poorest.

The research found that those who had qualified for "opportunity bursaries" - now replaced by grants - were less likely to drop out of university.

But it was "not possible to assess whether the long-term benefits of this element of the policy outweigh the costs".

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