Undergraduates are being offered management training alongside their degree studies if they help to design and run tutoring schemes for college and sixth-form students.
Two universities in the North-east have done deals with more than 130 schools and colleges to pioneer the scheme leading to top-level national vocational qualifications.
The undergraduates act as tutors, offer practical help to teachers and lecturers, and point out the value of further and higher education to young people.
They are responsible for co-ordinating school and college visits by the university tutors. The university students also help with the training and induction of new tutors and arrange for sixth-formers to shadow students at university.
If successful, it is hoped the universities of Newcastle and Northumbria scheme will be extended nationally. It could break the cycle of management skills shortages constantly complained about by industry as it recruits for personnel and other posts.
The offer of high-quality training towards a management NVQ is a major spin-off from a tutoring scheme which has already a proven track record in encouraging young people to stay-on for higher education.
An estimated 140 universities run tutoring schemes to encourage wider participation in HE while up to 40 FE colleges have established projects in schools to try to increase post-16 staying-on rates.
The Students into Schools project in Newcastle is one of the largest tutoring schemes in the UK and involves about 400 undergraduates each year. It offers all tutors the chance to gain a unit or module towards their degree as an incentive to give up their time and make regular visits to a schools or college.
Experienced tutors who become unpaid managers, normally during their final year at university, can gain further accreditation in the form of extra degree modules as well as building up a portfolio which will help them work towards an NVQ following graduation.
Project manager Jim Wood said the appointment of student managers since 1995 means that undergraduates have more say over tutoring and helps to ensure standards. "It breaks the project down into self-contained groups which maintain their own quality," he said.
So far 23 undergraduates have either completed or are in the process of trying to gain the management module. By also providing students with an opportunity to take a first step towards an NVQ in management, the project secured funding from Northumberland TEC and the two universities, both of which are based in Newcastle.
Sarah Ockelton, who is in the final year of a course in three-dimensional design, had planned to go into teacher training. After becoming a student manager in February, she has changed her mind and has been accredited for a management diploma course at the University of Durham.
"Being a manager has really improved my time management and built up my confidence and communication skills," she said. "I love the feeling of success when something which I'm in charge of really comes together." Each student manager is responsible for a team of six to 10 tutors. They must liaise with project staff, organise support meetings and visit tutors on placements.
Mr Wood pointed to new Management Charter Initiative standards published this month, which define skills directly related to the work of student managers, including the need to gain the trust of colleagues and assess the work of teams and individuals. "They are exposed to competence-based assessment within the national framework. As it is unlikely that any undergraduate will have the necessary vocational experience to gain an NVQ, this is the most they can hope to achieve at this stage."
Ailsa Winstanley, an undergraduate in English who was a student manager earlier this year, regretted she could not gain a full NVQ at university, but said the experience would help her as a future primary teacher.
and possibly assist her in becoming head of a school.