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A nudge down the campus road

It says something that Telford and Wrekin's most famous graduate is Ruth Archer of the BBC radio soap opera, who supposedly learned her craft at the Harper Adams agricultural college in Newport.

There is nothing remotely fictional about Harper Adams and Wolverhampton University's outpost in Telford is solid enough. But the authority is comparatively isolated from higher education, in common with many rural areas, and badly needs the educational and industrial links that a university sector can provide. Promoting post-16 education and economic regeneration are twin priorities for the borough, which has done its best to maximise connections with higher education.

Part of that response has been the Children's University, a range of projects attempting to extend learning opportunities, particularly to young people in difficult circumstances. One project allows all Year 6 pupils in the borough to attend a one-day workshop in an FE or HE establishment, with a chance to talk to students and teachers.

"The biggest difficulty we have is a very low level of aspiration to go on to university," says Mike Garlic, the officer responsible for out-of-school learning. "The idea of the summer visits is to let them live the day of a student. We plant the seed in Year 6, get a bit of the wow factor, then repeat it in Year 9 and beyond. We want to reinforce the idea that FE and HE are not scary places."

Some "university" activities have a decidedly practical direction. A group of youngsters recently went to Harper Adams to discuss the pleasures and pitfalls of money, for example.

The authority has managed to fund the initiative from many sources, including the New Opportunities Fund and the Playing for Success Project.

Even though the area does not have a football team, the normal requirement, Whitehall has been persuaded to help fund a study centre with Telford Ice Rink and the Telford Wildfoxes Ice Hockey Club.

"It makes a huge difference," says Mr Garlic. "It's a style of delivering that the children respond to. It is very ICT based, and they can take responsibility for their own learning - even if they've never shown any interest in ice hockey."

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