Dreaming spires? It's a real choice

17th November 2006 at 00:00
A College To University Transition Project Is Showing The Ivory Towers Of Academia Are Accessible To Everyone, Su Clark Writes

STUART MINICK has a pipe dream. He has spent the past 25 years working as a butcher, ending up as the head of the retail division of one of the biggest organic meat producers in England. But he gave it up recently to try something different.

"I have this pipe dream of me going to St Andrews University, but the more I talk to people about it the less of a pipedream it seems," says Mr Minick, who is currently doing an access course at Elmwood College in Cupar, Fife, and wants to do a history degree at Prince William's alma mater.

"It is daunting, especially for a dumb butcher like me, but I've always been a bit of an anorak about history."

Earlier this month, Mr Minick went on a visit to St Andrews as part of a transitions access project, set up by the Scottish Wider Access Partnership (Swap East), the universities of St Andrews, Abertay and Dundee and the FE colleges in the region. The visit was organised as part of a drive to make the transition to higher education easier for mature students and was funded by the Fife and Tayside Wider Access Regional Forum.

More than 60 students from further education colleges in the east of Scotland joined Mr Minick on the visit.

"The whole project is aimed at demystifying higher education and encouraging mature students to make informed choices about which university to attend," says Fraser Keir, the director of Scottish recruitment and access at St Andrews University.

The visit was the first of three, co-ordinated by Iain Luke from Swap East, and was followed this week by a second to Abertay and Dundee universities.

The third visit will take place in December and will be an abridged version of the first two for those unable to make the two-day visits.

Then, in February, students will be able to shadow existing university students for a day as they attend tutorials and lectures.

The trips are about more than just showing the students inside a university.

"For many of these students the thought of going to university will have never occurred to them," explained Mr Luke. "We created this programme for those who wish to make the transition from college to university."

The visit to St Andrews included a session on how to choose the right university, how to write an effective UCAS personal statement, and guidance on finance, time management and planning.

The students also attended a seminar on good listening skills and effective note-taking, before going to a lecture. The visit concluded with a recap to help students pick up on the most important and relevant points made during the lecture.

"University was like a big scary monster, but the visit gave me a real feel for the place and lessened some of the fear," says Mr Minick, who received an enthusiastic welcome from those at St Andrews.

"The seminars were really helpful. The session on UCAS personal statements was given by the person who reads all the applications to St Andrews. It was like having it from the horse's mouth."

During the second part of the programme, on the visit to Abertay and Dundee univer-sities, the students attended tutorials in smaller groups to give an insight into how university courses are delivered.

"A similar programme has been running in Edinburgh for the past three years," said Mr Luke, "and we wanted to create the same for mature students in the Dundee and Fife area.

"We've had very positive feedback so far. We want to make this a regular event every year."

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