Last week, a select group of 30 students from across United Learning’s academies arrived at the University of Birmingham for a three-day residential.
The visit was organised to round off another successful year of Scholars’ Club, an initiative set up by United Learning in 2016 to give students the chance to learn directly from experts in their fields and discover new areas of knowledge.
Throughout the year, hundreds of students nationally have enjoyed an afterschool programme of bi-monthly lectures – either in their own school or streamed live into their classrooms via Skype. This year a varied collection of almost 20 experts volunteered their time to speak on a chosen subject and answer questions about their work and careers.
Open to secondary-age students, and run in 15 United Learning schools, the programme is not only designed to broaden students’ subject knowledge but to provide an insight into Higher Education courses. Topics of this year’s Scholars’ Club talks included artificial intelligence, economics, law, architecture, international relations, public policy, cancer research, neuroscience, psychology, novel writing and film documentaries.
The Group aims to reach as many young people as possible by live-streaming the talks, with a particular focus on students from disadvantaged backgrounds or who would be the first generation in their families to go to university.
Several of the Year 9s and 10s that had taken regular part in the programme during the year were therefore selected by their schools to attend last week’s residential to get a taste of university life. The schools involved were Glenmoor & Winton Academies, Kettering Buccleuch Academy, Midhurst Rother College, Sheffield Park Academy, The Hurlingham Academy, The Regis School, The Totteridge Academy and Walthamstow Academy.
At the residential, students were welcomed by undergraduate ambassadors from the University of Birmingham with a tour of the campus and an initial Q&A on what to expect from a degree course. They also took part in several academic taster sessions with university lecturers – this included one on the ‘Physics of Hot and Cold’ with Professor David Evans and one on ‘Racial Stereotypes and Brand Mascots’ by Professor Michelle Chresfield.
The final talk of the residential was delivered by the University of Birmingham’s outreach officer, who covered topics such as how to choose the right A Levels, what makes a good application and student finance – including accessing the grants and bursaries available. The talk ended with another Q&A session with the university ambassadors who shared their experience of transitioning from school to university.
During the residential, students also delivered presentations on their favourite Scholars’ Club talk of the year, including what they had learnt and, for many, the impact it had on their future career plans. There was likewise overwhelmingly positive feedback from the students about the three-day visit. One said:
“The university and Higher Education talk was my favourite. It helped me understand what university life would be like and what subjects I need to take to go down my career path. Before the residential, I was not too sure whether to go to university or not but I am sure that I will go now.”
Another student added:
“The tuition fees and student loans were explained well and I am now no longer as worried. I am now looking forward to studying at university and am motivated to work hard.”
Martina Montecchiarini, Project Lead at United Learning, said of the Scholars’ Club programme:
“We have been incredibly fortunate to have so many excellent speakers join us this year to share their knowledge, career lessons and guidance on such a rich and varied selection of topics. From barristers and scientists, to writers and filmmakers, all our guests have brought insight and inspiration to students through Scholars’ Club, so thank you to everyone who got involved.
“The end-of-year residential was the perfect way to reflect on the programme so far and impact of the expertise and guidance they have gained was clear in students’ presentations. We hope the Club will continue to shift perceptions around Higher Education and show our young people the many exciting possibilities open to them in their futures.”