In the last four years over 1,800 young people across Wales have engaged with cutting-edge academic research as part of a programme designed to increase access to the most-selective universities, a new report shows.
The report, Access Through National Collaboration: Mobilising the PhD community to support university readiness with schools in Wales, was launched by The Brilliant Club at an event at the Senedd in Cardiff.
Welsh students are underrepresented at the UK’s most selective universities, with around a third of 15-year olds in Wales expecting to gain an undergraduate degree, compared to 40% of their English counterparts (PISA, 2015). And they are progressing to higher education at lower rates than English students, 29.6% compared to 33.7% (UCAS 2018 End of Cycle Report).
Working with schools across Wales and the SEREN Network (the Welsh Government’s flagship university access programme), The Brilliant Club began delivering its Scholars Programme in Wales in 2016. The Scholars Programme recruits, trains and places PhD and postdoctoral researchers in state schools to deliver programmes of university-style learning, bookended by two university trips.
By the end of the 2017/18 academic year, the charity had worked with nearly 900 students in Wales and mobilised 31 PhD researchers from Wales and England to deliver university-style tutorials in schools. The tutorials, which are usually based on the PhD tutor’s original research expertise, give students a stretching academic experience and a sense of what university study is like. Students on the programme have completed assignments on topics as advanced and varied as ‘Inside a beautiful mind: investigating the genetic basis of schizophrenia’ and ‘Hiphop as political resistance’.
By last summer, 846 students from Wales and England had visited Cardiff University as part of the programme, as well as undertaking trips to universities including Oxford, Bristol and Bath. The Brilliant Club is on track to have worked with an additional 977 students by the end of the current academic year.
The report sets out the challenges of adapting a programme to meet the specific education needs and priorities of multiple national and regional contexts. The key learning for the charity was the importance of collaboration with local organisations in order to increase engagement with schools who have subsequently signed up to The Scholars Programme independently. For example, The Brilliant Club first worked in Wales by partnering with the Welsh Government’s flagship widening access programme, the Seren Network. The charity has now worked with all 11 of the Seren regional hubs and delivered the Seren National Conference for the past two years. By building close relationships with schools, universities and funders in Wales, The Brilliant Club has adapted The Scholars Programme to effectively meet the needs and support the priorities of the education system in Wales.
On the launch of the case study in Cardiff, The Brilliant Club’s Chief Programmes Officer, Richard Eyre, said:
“We are delighted to be publishing this new research, which pays tribute to what students across Wales are achieving through The Scholars Programme. These achievements are only possible because of the strong partnerships we have built with schools, universities and other key partners in the Welsh education system. The Brilliant Club is committed to working in any non-selective state school in Wales that wants to partner with us, so it is important that we understand how the programme can complement and support the priorities of Welsh educators.”