Ulster pupils change track

August 23, 2002

All 50 pupils in an Ulster University access scheme are set to enter higher education, despite 49 of them initially saying that they could never see themselves going to university.

Ulster launched its Step-Up scheme two years ago, targeting nine secondary schools in Londonderry. Virtually all the schools came under the Department of Education's social-need funds and had poor A-level and GNVQ results.

The first pupils to go through the two-year science course have all passed the advanced vocational certificate in education, following tutoring, a summer school and mentoring by UU staff.

One pupil, Gillian McKeown, who plans to study biomedical sciences at UU, said: "Many of us were initially reluctant to take part in Step-Up because we did not feel that university was for us. We are all now happy that we did participate because our involvement opened up a new world of science education."

The scheme has been praised by Northern Ireland's employment and learning minister, Carmel Hanna, and by Universities UK as a way forward in reaching 50 per cent participation.

Gerry McKenna, UU's vice-chancellor, said: "We have shown that carefully planned interventionist programmes such as Step-Up can impact meaningfully on communities that have not previously seen success in education, and particularly higher education, as an attainable aspiration."

* Aberdeen and Edinburgh universities have between them won almost half of 50 new full-time equivalent student places allocated under a Scotland-wide scheme to reward institutions that attract external funds specifically for widening access.

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