Opportunity knocks for 77% in mentoring scheme

Realising Opportunities project helps aspiring undergraduates from poor areas gain places at elite research institutions

October 16, 2014

A student-mentoring scheme has helped hundreds of disadvantaged teenagers to gain places at research-intensive universities, a study has suggested.

Realising Opportunities, which is run by 15 universities, targets high-achieving students in deprived areas and helps them to carry out an extended project qualification with the support of undergraduate mentors, which is then considered part of their university application.

Some 77 per cent of participants who applied received a university offer this year, up from 64 per cent in 2013, according to a report to mark the scheme’s fourth year as a self-funded initiative. The initiative began in 2009 as a government-financed project.

About a third of those individuals involved in Realising Opportunities come from the lowest quintile for higher education participation. Only about 9 per cent of the participating universities’ overall intake come from that group, analysis shows.

The scheme, which also targets teenagers whose parents have not been to university, found that 70 per cent of participants received offers from their first-choice institution and that 76 per cent were happy with those they received.

Ella Ritchie, emeritus deputy vice-chancellor of Newcastle University, who chairs the initiative, said that students felt more comfortable applying to research-intensive universities after interacting with undergraduates and completing an academic assignment. “We are trying to demystify going to university by getting them to do university-level work,” she said.

With poorer students tending to stay closer to home, the project also seeks to link students with universities outside their home region by providing open days and e-mentors.

Some 40 per cent of the 496 Realising Opportunities students taking part in 2013 did move away from their home areas.

The project, whose supporters include the universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter, Leicester and Manchester, is monitoring its graduates’ employment destinations. It is due to publish results of how many of its first cohort of students entered professional occupations next year.


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