Students from local schools in Cardiff learn first hand about the benefits of university life in new project
A recent report by the leading Russell group of research Universities in the UK concluded that it is vital that young people are encouraged to take up University careers so that the UK will have a next generation of world class researchers, and will retain its status as a world leading research nation. This research power is vital for future economic growth, so it is vital therefore that pupils from all backgrounds are aware of the university opportunities that are available to them.
With this in mind GCSE and A level students from local schools in Cardiff learnt first hand about University life when they participated in an innovative project called ‘Talent Trails’, aimed at engaging school pupils and their teachers with university researchers. The project focussed on how schools and universities could better develop creativity in students of all ages and across all subjects, The project started from the premise that none of the groups were achieving this particularly well and so, by working together from ignorance, they could collaboratively develop and explore potential solutions.
Students met researchers in face to face workshops and learnt how to communicate their experiences by developing online blogs and websites and producing digital stories. Both researchers and students produced narratives that explored the different routes that pupils in schools around Wales can take to higher education. The aim of this was to allow universities to reach into communities that often do not see higher education as being open and available to them. Talented students came from a wide variety of backgrounds, and went back to their communities with lots of stories to tell to their friends about what universities are like.
The unique element of this project, was that it was organised and run by undergraduates at Cardiff University. Four undergraduates coming from each of the Schools of Engineering, Biosciences, Journalism Media and Communications and Social Sciences acted as ‘talent facilitators’, introducing pupils from schools in Neath, Barry, Penarth and Cardiff to academic staff, fostering their educational needs and aspirations.
Academic staff were also challenged to communicate their often complicated work lives and research in brief stories, so as to inspire the next generation of learners. The aim of this was to raise the awareness of university work amongst broader communities.
The leader of the project Dr Ian Jones is the Innovation & Engagement Officer for Cardiff University’s Social Sciences department. He said:
‘This project involved a wide range of pupils of potential talent from strongly contrasting backgrounds. While some already had a university career in mind, many others did not.’
‘The most rewarding aspect of the project was observing the changes in attitude by all parties in the scheme. Individuals in all groups grew in confidence and stature as they engaged with each other.’
‘One event that stood out particularly was when pupils from Cwrt Sart school presented to camera as a formal newscast in JOMEC’s TV studio. They got it right on the first take. The emotional levels were high with moist eyes amongst both staff and undergraduates.’
Dr Jones thinks that University projects like these are vital, for both the communities around universities, and the researchers and students within them. He said:
‘Affective engagement especially through storytelling is at least as important as disseminating knowledge in Universities. Active involvement and providing real life experiences have more impact than passive transmission of information. It is about personal growth for all parties, pupils, students and staff.’
‘We are pioneering new techniques of engaging with families – siblings, parents and grandparents of more able pupils in one of the schools – so that the benefits of the scheme can become community wide.’
Engagement projects like this one allow Universities to make a key contribution to the cultural and intellectual life of their local communities, stimulating cultural vitality. Hopefully the results will be that aspirations amongst poorer pupils will be raised and horizons will be broadened sufficiently to make studying at university a more likely and achievable option across the community.
Lead: Dr Ian Jones, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University