Read, David and Littlefield, Ben
Nurturing Talent. Final Report (full report and appendices. Birmingham, GB, National HE STEM Programme, 17pp.
Widening Participation in Higher Education requires effective interaction between higher education institutions and under-represented communities. Such interaction has traditionally taken the form of outreach events/school visits by the university aimed at promoting engagement, or one-off visits by a few selected ‘master class’ students to the campus for a tour or lecture. However, this approach doesn’t take into account cultural barriers that may exist in communities without a tradition of higher education. These barriers often prevent the students from considering university study as relevant or their parents being willing or able to support their children in their aspirations.
This report evaluates a year-long programme of weekend sessions – the Nurturing Talent Programme - delivered by volunteer graduate mentors of Somali origin with the intention of inspiring young students from the Somali community of Brent, as well as furnishing them with the skills and knowledge required to access higher education. Through a series of academic and soft-skill based workshops delivered in the local secondary school (Capital City Academy)1 and visits to universities and museums, these volunteers have had a huge impact on the students they have been mentoring. Our evidence shows that the students’ attitudes towards university and their own potential place in HE have improved significantly, and that there has been a perceptible increase in maturity in the students’ attitudes towards their future. Furthermore, teachers have reported that many of the youngsters have demonstrated improved academic performance over the course of a year, which appears to be directly related to the impact of the Nurturing Talent program.
The positive outcomes have been the consequence of three key features of the program:
i) The involvement of mentors from the Somali community, who are graduates or are engaged in university study, showed the students that they can genuinely aspire to engage in university study.
ii) Visits to universities had a significant impact on the students by introducing them to potential fellow students from a range of backgrounds and giving familiarity with the environment and they would be going into. Visits which included an element of hands-on activity (rather than talk/tour sessions) clearly had the biggest impact on aspirations.
iii) The involvement of parents engendered notable enthusiasm during the programme, which is highly significant given the important role played by parents in encouraging/supporting their children. It was clear that parents’ knowledge of the UK education system and the opportunities available to their children was limited at the start of the project, with most of them having moved to the UK during adulthood. At the end of the programme, the positive attitudes of the youngsters had influenced the parents, who were also more confident about HE process.
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