The Urban Scholars Programme at Brunel University London is a unique, sustained 3-year intervention programme which provides enriched learning experiences for students aged 12 -18 from inner London schools. The students are selected on the basis of their academic talent or their potential to achieve highly. Many of the students come from socially deprived areas where their talents may not lead to successful examination results or high aspirations. The scholars come from 31 schools across London; they attend sessions delivered on the Brunel University London campus for one Saturday a month for three years. On entry to the programme, typically only 20% of students are achieving target grades in the key areas of English and Mathematics. The programme addresses concerns often raised over the lack of progress of students from groups underrepresented in Higher Education.
The Urban Scholars programme is carefully tailored and evidence-based on current theory, research and tutors’ experience in working with students from inner city areas. This multi-faceted approach to tackling submerged gifts and talents includes sessions on Mathematics, English (speaking and writing), Science, Critical Thinking, and Drama to develop presentation skills. In addition, guest speakers and role models from many walks of life are a regular feature of the programme, providing the motivation necessary for high achievement. They are essential in raising the aspiration of the scholars through testimony of real life struggles and hurdles that have to be tackled in order to achieve success and fulfil dreams.
The intervention is founded on the belief that education is at the core of an enlightened and fulfilling life. We offer the programme to the Scholars on the University campus which provides an environment for promoting learning and carrying out cognitively challenging educational enquiries.
At the core of the programme are efforts to motivate students for high achievement and to aspire higher than they would have without the intervention. The 4 key aims are:
- To increase achievement,
- To promote engagement with learning,
- To increase and focus aspirations including HE (higher education) orientation,
- To develop an increased understanding of self and life-world.
In addition to changing attitudes, the programme aims to develop skills including students' social skills and self-esteem, and develop a willingness to set and achieve personal goals.
Research together with ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the programme has provided evidence that the programme consistently achieves its aims. Many of our Scholars respond positively to the programme, not only by demonstrating higher academic success and orientation towards University education, but also by acquiring a greater level of self-confidence, resilience and a capacity for rational thinking.
Destination data is gathered for scholars post-programme. The most recent leavers had a higher education orientation with only 30% on entry, which increased to 54% after one year, rising to 88% after 3-years attendance. On leaving the programme, 91% (of a 52% sample) had converted these aspirations into reality having received offers of places at Universities to start in the autumn 2018. Midway through this autumn term 83% (of a 58% sample) are at University studying STEM or Finance & Economics related subjects. Furthermore, 65% are at Russell group institutions and two Scholars are studying in the USA on full scholarships.
When asked how the programme had impacted on them, Scholars’ responses included the following: thinking more about the future (86%), more willing to seize opportunities ( 80%), having a greater awareness of the benefits of studying (84%) , improved social skills (53%), and increased confidence (57%). These responses are set within the context of a recent report commissioned by the Prince’s Trust, ‘The Youth Index, 2018’, which found that 51% of young people noted that a lack of confidence held them back and 21% thought that, no matter hard they work, they could not be successful or make something of their lives. The programme offers Scholars a range of opportunities and confidence is nurtered to prompt the Scholars to seize them.
Urban Scholars Alumni: a Unique Resource
This success has guaranteed continued support and to date, the University has funded staff salaries for a core team of three part- time staff enabling 1,510 students to gain places on the 3-years programme. Additionally, an innovative funding model has resulted in the University and corporate sponsors sharing the delivery costs of the programme. The University has funded 600 places, the Moody’s Foundation in New York has funded 700 places, and the Niftylift Company in Milton Keynes has funded 210 places.
Coming from similar backgrounds to the Scholars, the Alumni are excellent role models and a unique resource. Many have a desire to ‘give back’ to the programme and they regularly return to tell their stories and explain how they have overcome challenges, setbacks and hardships within their lives. Past scholars who are now studying at Brunel also work as paid Student Ambassadors for the programme where they provide support in taught sessions, and speak about their decision making processes and the challenges faced during transitions from GCSEs to A Levels and then into University. Alumni are currently working within a range of professions including:
- Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
- Accounting & Finance
- ICT / Technology
- Teaching / Lecturing
- Academia (completing Masters and PhDs)
Individual alumni achievements include;
- Nomination for the Royal Society of Arts,
- Captain of St Johns College, Cambridge, winners of 2018 University Challenge,
- Working on a Human Rights Project for the United Nations (qualified lawyer),
- Attendance at American Universities on a Fulbright / Sutton Trust Scholarship,
- Youth Ambassador for the Mayor of London (City Hall),
- Entry to Oxford and Cambridge colleges,
- The conditional offer of a scholarship place at an Ivy League University (Columbia, New York).
Quotes from our current Urban Scholars and their parents
Quotes from the Scholars themselves illustrate the programme's impact in their own words:
- 'We have really good lectures that we wouldn’t get in school like gun and knife crime. They get people who know about youth stuff to talk in a way on a more grown up level.'
- ‘[the programme] has influenced me, not only to have a dream, but to go on and achieve it, by whatever means and whatever sacrifice.’
- 'The sessions have made me more determined to seize opportunities and achieve in the future. They have made me work harder and I feel more comfortable about being able to move into a University environment.’
- 'A very useful and informative programme which has helped my child to focus on planning for the future and achieving goals which she had felt to be out of her reach'
- 'A great opportunity to gain confidence and find an achievable direction. Thank you for the opportunities you have given my child'.
For more information about the programme, please contact the Programme Co-Directors, Catherina Emery at Catherina.Emery@brunel.ac.uk and Antoine Rogers at Antoine.Rogers@brunel.ac.uk, or our Programme Administrator, Kane Harrison at Kane.Harrison@brunel.ac.uk.
We would like to acknowledge the following sponsors. Without their support, the Urban Scholars Programme would not have materialised. A grant from the Moody’s Foundation in 2003 enabled us to launch the programme, and their grants have continued to support the Urban Scholars.
Grants from the SHINE Trust and Education Development Trust have enabled us to assess the effectiveness of the programme using robust evidence, and we have refined the programme using ongoing practice-based evidence.