Disadvantaged eight-year-olds are being introduced to the world of higher education as part of an innovative access scheme that includes "spot the lecturer" exercises and tours of vice-chancellors' plush offices.
Since it was launched in 1995, the project has been arranging visits to the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside for pupils from underachieving primary and secondary schools. It has been commended by Universities UK (formerly the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals) as an example of best practice.
A £200,000 grant from the European Social Fund will allow the scheme to reach out for the first time to schools in Lincoln, Grimsby and S****horpe, and will increase its coverage in Hull.
The hope is that a positive experience at an early age will result in more pupils from underprivileged backgrounds considering university as an option. Pupils who complete the project can earn up to six points to add to their A-level scores when they come to apply for a place at the university.
John Knowles, the project coordinator, who gave evidence to the all-party group on lifelong learning in Westminster last year, said universities were still failing to attract enough students from working-class backgrounds.
He said: "The vast majority of students going in to higher education don't decide to go - they go as a matter of course. The huge expansion of higher education has served to recruit large numbers of poorly qualified middle-class students rather than under-qualified working-class students."
Secondary schools involved in the scheme tackle more weighty issues. Past projects have included journalism and marketing and gender and social class issues.
Pupils studying for their GCSEs are given a conditional offer of a place at the university and can accumulate credits for a record of achievement.
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