Fill in the gaps with inspiration

February 11, 2005

Chancellor Gordon Brown last week urged students to do more voluntary work in their gap year. And once they've caught the volunteering bug, what better place to continue such work than in the university?

Mentoring is one way to do this. Most university schemes tend to focus on raising aspirations and the achievement of school students aged 14-19, and the research seems to show benefits. This is important given that the widening participation agenda means more students will need support, especially in their first year at university. Mentoring students in their second year could be vital in reducing drop-out rates.

Last year, half the 42 bids for national Aimhigher programmes, which promote initiatives to widen participation, involved mentoring; the three successful projects have been rolled together into the Aimhigher National Mentoring Scheme.

One, HE MentorNet, run by the Institute for Community Development and Learning (ICDL) at Middlesex University, helps mentoring and e-mentoring staff in English universities to network. HE MentorNet ran the first e-mentoring conference in December at Aston Business School and discussed the issues raised by students providing online mentoring for school pupils.

The other projects are Cardiff University's National Mentoring Scheme, which includes 28 institutions providing 800 paid mentors to secondary schools, and The Brightside Trust's Health E-mentoring Project, a web-based scheme encouraging 14 to 19-year-olds to aspire to careers in health-related occupations.

Despite the popularity of e-mentoring, there is a lack of research in the UK into how it can be most effectively focused. The ICDL will also research to what extent mentoring programmes encourage "non-traditional" students to apply to university.

Andrew Miller is director of Aimhigher National Mentoring Scheme.

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