By Saniya Saraf
A new scheme, ‘Levelling Up: Aspire Higher’ has been launched by Durham University to support students from the North East to study STEM subjects and apply to university.
Students that are traditionally underrepresented in higher education STEM subjects will be tutored by University experts through the programme. Students will be tutored as they study for their A- levels and apply for university, particularly in subjects such as Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics.
The programme is to compliment existing programmes in Durham University for students from the North East. Applications for the programme open in the spring of 2021.
Chemistry student Romer Palad, a beneficiary of one of Durham’s scholarships for students from the North East, spoke to Palatinate about the initiative. “The term ‘Durham Bubble’ is so omnipresent and frequently mentioned but it really does exist – there is an unsettling contrast of privilege and deprivation between the city and the surrounding local region.”
“This initiative seeks to champion local talent and improve social mobility, hopefully normalising the notion that a northern state-schooled student like myself can access a prestigious institution like DU to study his favourite subject.”
The project is being lead by the Associate Professor (Teaching) in the Chemistry Department at Durham University, Dr Jacquie Robson, who is working with colleagues in the Mathematical Sciences and Physics departments
Also part of the project is Dr Helen Cramman, Assistant Professor (Research) from the School of Education, who is an expert in the evaluation of the impact of different educational interventions.
Students that are traditionally underrepresented in higher education STEM subjects will be tutored by University experts through the programme.
The Executive Dean for the Faculty of Science at Durham University, Professor Jacqui Ramagge commented on the project saying, “We are proud to be taking the lead in a programme which will impact the lives of many young people in the North East and more broadly across the UK.”
“Here at Durham University we are passionate about helping students succeed, regardless of their background or circumstances. We are delighted that Dr Tony Hill’s gift will support us to do just that.”
Durham University, in collaboration with the London Mathematical Society and the Institute of Physics, launched the programme with the aid of Dr. Tony Hill, a philanthropist and former teacher in the North East.
After a career in software industry, Dr. Hill went on to fill in the role of the Chief Executive Officer of Micro Focus. He was successful in leading the company to a float in the London Stock Exchange in 2005.
With a focus on science outreach and widening participation in higher education, Dr. Tony Hill has spent much of his time post-retirement on philanthropic projects. He said, “I am delighted to be working with Durham University’s Faculty of Science. They share my ambition to give all young people, regardless of their background, the opportunity to realise their potential.”
“We are passionate about helping students succeed, regardless of their background or circumstances”Professor Jacqui Ramagge
Romer echoed this sentiment when reflecting on his experience studying a STEM subject at Durham. “As a chemist, I can unequivocally say that the department isn’t only focused on your academic progression but also cares about your welfare with an emphasis on pastoral care.”
“My initial experiences at university were very daunting, and I settled in very quickly with the department’s support. As an added bonus, it’s always convenient to catch the next 15-minute train to Newcastle and have my mum make my dinner if I can’t be bothered to cook that evening!”.
He did also point out what he saw as an issue within the university. “It only takes a simple google search to see the recent headlines highlighting the racial, class, gender and regional disparities that DU has, and they permeate into the university culture, making students of underrepresented backgrounds feel unwelcome.”
“It is incumbent upon the university executive to address these and champion initiatives to yield successive cohorts that are more representative.”
“Initiatives like ‘Levelling Up: Aspiring Higher’ and programmes like ‘Supported Progression’ are crucial lifelines that can alleviate this in terms of bridging the student number gap, but more importantly the culture and preconceptions need to change.”
Earlier this year, Durham University also launched ‘Durham Inspired – North East Scholarships’, a programme that aims to enable students in the North East from low-income backgrounds to study at Durham.
Image credit: Durham University