Moves to increase wider participation at Durham University
(13 December 2005)
Durham University admissions staff are meeting teachers and advisors from all over the North East region this week to examine ways of attracting students from the widest possible range of backgrounds – with the backing of Durham City MP, Roberta Blackman-Woods.
Dr Blackman-Woods is giving the keynote speech to launch a one-day conference attended by representatives of nearly 40 secondary schools and colleges, mainly from the Northumberland to Tees Valley area. She will speak about the importance of widening participation to the region and the government. The Durham conference – on Thursday 15 December - coincides with the London launch of a national report (see note 2) that highlights success by the sector in improving access for people from families with no experience of higher education. Durham was recently named University of the Year by the Sunday Times University Guide, recognising its academic strengths and its progress in widening participation. In recent years the University has used mentoring projects, school and university visits and residential summer schools to raise the awareness and aspirations of the ablest pupils, especially those from families where there is little or no experience of going into higher education. It has introduced one of the country’s most generous financial incentives, the Durham Grant Scheme, to help people from poorer backgrounds with grants of up to £12,000 over a full undergraduate course. The University attracted a record number of applications, almost 30,000, last year and pulled in 11.9 per cent more from ‘Low Participation Neighbourhoods’ (LPNs). Latest figures for the 2006 entry, from the national admissions service UCAS, show that while Durham’s total so far is slightly down, in line with the national figures, the proportion from LPNs is running higher than at the same stage last year. The UCAS deadline for next year’s applications is 15 January. Each year Durham admits about 3,500 undergraduates. Professor Alan Bilsborough, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, who chairs the conference, said: “Our measures are already helping more school and college leavers, and adults, in the North East gain entry into higher education, and we are keen to keep on building on that progress with the teachers and advisors who help applicants make their choices. We are keen to attract the ablest students, regardless of their background.” Durham also runs a attractive Foundation Programme, based at Queen’s Campus, Stockton, which is particularly designed for adult learners or people without the traditional entry qualifications. The Conference is on 15 December at St Mary’s College in the University. Dr Blackman-Woods said: “I am very pleased that Durham University is holding this conference to raise the profile of widening access to HE. Widening participation is an essential part of the Government's agenda to give 50% of the population experience of Higher Education. This is vital to building a knowledge based economy. “In that context I very much welcome the bursary scheme developed by Durham University to encourage students from low income backgrounds to attend the University.”