Why I want more inner-city youngsters to go to our top universities

November 26, 1999

I have been very impressed by the experience of Peter Lampl's Sutton Trust. Over the past two years, it has worked with hundreds of inner-city youngsters to widen their horizons by bringing them on residential weeks on university campuses in the summer vacation.

We will be supporting them next year and expanding on their idea in a big way with Pounds 4 million for week-long summer schools at Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, London and up to 60 other universities. This is part of our plan to transform inner-city school standards.

In the United States, it is normal for universities to link with inner-city schools. Pupils and teachers spend time on campus. University tutors and undergraduates visit schools. I know that many British universities have been developing such partnerships informally, and I hope that many more will do so.

Next week, the Higher Education Funding Council for England will publish the first ever indicators on the performance of universities, and I know we will all study them to see the extent to which different institutions are encouraging access and participation.

When bright sixth-formers from the inner city spend a week at summer schools in Oxford or Cambridge, Nottingham or Bristol, they have their horizons broadened. For many, it will be their first experience of a university. It may be the first time anyone in their family has had that experience. The chance to spend time on the campus and to meet lecturers and students can transform the way sixth-formers view universities.

If universities are about enabling children to succeed on their merits, it is essential that they embrace those youngsters who get the results in inner-city areas. There were those who argued that student loans and fees would deter such students. They have not done so. (Such youngsters are exempt from tuition fees, in any case.) But what is important is that teachers and parents raise their expectations of youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds so that they raise their own.

I am very pleased that vice-chancellors have been enthusiastically embracing these ideas, and that universities are encouraging those who make the grade in urban comprehensives and further education colleges to set their sights higher.

I did it the hard way myself, through day release and college. That is why I want many other youngsters with the ability to succeed to have the chance to fulfil their potential.

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