Pupils who take part in the National Citizen Service programme are significantly more likely than their peers to be accepted on to a university course, a new report finds.
The report, using data from university-admissions service Ucas, concludes that university admissions are determined by more than just exam grades.
Teenagers who had participated in the National Citizen Service (NCS) programme, which is open to pupils between the ages of 15 and 17, were on average 12 per cent more likely to go on to university than their peers.
The report suggests the impact is greatest among pupils from disadvantaged areas: among these pupils, participants in the programme were almost 50 per cent more likely to enrol in higher education than their classmates.
Michael Lynas, chief executive of the scheme, said that NCS provided young people with “a leg-up by learning vital life skills that can’t be taught in a classroom”.
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The government-backed NCS offers teenagers a two or three-week programme of outdoor and educational activities. The scheme also involves 30 hours’ commitment to a community project benefiting young people and society.
Since the programme’s launch in 2009, more than 300,000 pupils have taken part. This summer, there are expected to be more than 100,000 participants.
Steve Haycocks, headteacher at Balshaw's Church of England High School, said that the scheme helped fill the empty time after pupils' GCSE exams were over.
He added: “The NCS programme is like a cross between the Dragon's Den and the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.
"It gets students to meet others in a challenging but supportive environment.”
Andrew Carter, head of recruitment and outreach at the University of the West of England, said: “Universities have a real challenge attracting those students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
"Initiatives like the National Citizen Service are useful for preparing young people for higher education.”