The University of Abertay, Dundee, is enrolling pupils as part-time students in an online project aimed at combating the low local rate of higher education participation.
Dundee has a significantly higher proportion of 18 to 23-year-olds than other Scottish cities, but only 25 per cent of school leavers go on to full-time higher education, compared with a Scottish national average of 31 per cent. About 36 per cent leave school at 16, compared with the average of 30 per cent and almost 12 per cent of these have no qualifications, compared with 6.5 per cent.
More than 30 senior pupils have been registered as Abertay students and have been given passwords allowing them to log on to the university's network under the Programme for Access and Learning in Schools (Pals), which Abertay has launched in collaboration with Dundee City Council.
The university believes this could be a model for distance-learning partnerships between schools and universities throughout the country. The pupils will be taught how to get online and how to use the electronic resources of the university library.
A number of teachers are registered as Abertay users and have been trained in online tutoring. The project combines information technology and high-speed internet networks.
The pupils will be able to log on to information technology training material from school computers through a modem at home, or one in Abertay's library. The university is already the hub for a high-speed internet connection for Dundee City Council schools, linking them to Janet.
Jane Core, Abertay's professor of lifelong learning, said the basic IT skills that the university was teaching would enable pupils to be more independent in future. "We believe that the Pals model will prove to be a more effective means of introducing pupils such as these to online learning than traditional methods," she said.
"The support we are offering will help them to overcome one of the biggest hurdles to achievement -their own lack of confidence. Pals will show them what modern university learning is like, and will give them a taste of university life as well."
This is the latest in a series of Abertay schemes to widen access. These include an academic compact, which guarantees a university place to participating pupils, and the Ahead programme to encourage adults with few academic qualifications to enter higher education.