Summer learning

28 August 2012

Celebrating a summer of learning (left to right) are Neil Surman, Head of Higher Education Department for Education and Skills at the Welsh Government, Claire James from Builth Wells, Lily Robbins From Greenhill Comprehensive, Tenby, Roisin Wood from Llanio near Tregaron, George Smith from St Davids Comprehensive School, Chester, Professor April McMahon, Vice-chancellor of Aberystwyth University, and Dylan Lewis, Mayor of Aberystwyth.
Celebrating a summer of learning (left to right) are Neil Surman, Head of Higher Education Department for Education and Skills at the Welsh Government, Claire James from Builth Wells, Lily Robbins From Greenhill Comprehensive, Tenby, Roisin Wood from Llanio near Tregaron, George Smith from St Davids Comprehensive School, Chester, Professor April McMahon, Vice-chancellor of Aberystwyth University, and Dylan Lewis, Mayor of Aberystwyth.

Whilst most young people would generally take the summer holiday off from their studies, 74 young students decided to opt for 6 weeks of lectures, research and presentations at this year’s Aberystwyth Summer University.

The Aberystwyth Summer University is a flagship widening access programme aimed at those who are at least 17 and can demonstrate the commitment and motivation to successfully complete the programme. They live or go to school / college in a Welsh Communities First area, or are from a care / care leaver background, or are the first from their family or community to go to university.

Its strength lies in allowing a large group of students to come together for an extended period to study subjects of their own choosing, taught by academics in the Departments, mirroring university life as realistically as possible. 

Much of its benefits derive from the fact that the students have 6 weeks in which to immerse themselves in the experience of university, adjusting to being away from home, to the pressures of academic work, and learning time management skills which enable them to enjoy a programme of sports and social activities.

Lily Robbins, a year 12 student from Greenhill Comprehensive, Tenby, has just finished her AS level exams and is hoping to study nursing at Cardiff or English Literature at Aberystwyth.

“My mum has been encouraging me to go to university but I was rather nervous about living away from home”, she said, “but the course has given me a new found confidence in myself. 

“The first few days were a bit nerve racking but you soon make friends from all over the country, because we are all in it together. 

“I found it easy to adapt to the course work because the staff were so supportive. You learn a lot from the lectures and from your independent studies and it’s far better than being bored all summer or working. It has been a brilliant experience.”
George Smith, a pupil at St David’s High School, Chester had gained some valuable skills from his experience of the course.
“My politics teacher told me that I should consider studying International Politics at Aberystwyth. The course has been really valuable, it has enhanced my presentation skills, improved my essay writing and made me more aware of how much background reading is required for subjects”, said George.

“The University will also offer you a  progression route if you attend the Summer University, pass all 6 academic modules and get 2 passes in your  A levels (or equivalent), so I jumped at the chance to attend . Within 2 to 3 days I had met lots of people and it was great to get to know another part of the country. ”

The Aberystwyth Summer University is all about challenging the assumption that higher education is for “other sorts of people” and aims to instil confidence in the participant.  One of the students, Roisin Wood from Llanio near Tregaron, felt that the course was an opportunity to dispel these myths.

“This course helps put Uni life into perspective and I would definitely encourage people I know to attend it in the future”, she said.

“The lecturers were very open and helpful and easy to talk to and I thoroughly enjoyed following the science courses. The highlight for me was the practical forensic lessons and since my A level results Aberystwyth has offered me a place on the Criminology course.”

Organised by the Centre for Widening Participation and Social Inclusion, the Summer University relies on the support of trained Student Leaders to assist them with pastoral care and sports/social activities.

Dr Debra Croft, Manager, said: “The Summer University not only benefits the young people who study with us, but also gives our Student Leader team the chance to enhance their skills and employment opportunities.”

Amongst them was 2nd year History student, Claire James from Builth Wells. Claire took part in the 2009 summer course as nobody from her family had experienced higher education and she wanted a taste before committing herself to the idea.
“It really helped me and I am still in contact with the friends I made in 2009. Many of them have had to overcome obstacles but they have all gained from the experience which opened the door to degree courses”, said Claire.

“I appreciated what the course had offered me and I wanted to give something back, it’s really important to widen access to education.  Many young people are apprehensive about going to University because they come from difficult backgrounds and may not have support from their friends or family. I hope that we, as Leaders, offer support and have been good role models for this year’s students”, she added.

On Friday, 24th August all the hard work paid off, when this year’s students were awarded an Aberystwyth Summer University certificate to mark their successful completion of the course. The ‘graduation ceremony’ was held at the Hugh Owen Building on Penglais Campus and led by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor April McMahon.

Professor McMahon commented: “I congratulate everyone for having the courage and commitment to attend the Summer University, which can seem like a major step into the unknown, and for your perseverance in continuing your studies at this high level for 6 weeks. It has been a pleasure to have all the participants with us, and I am delighted to see friends and families attending this event today to share their achievements.”

Professor McMahon was joined by Neil Surman, Head of Higher Education Department for Education and Skills at the Welsh Government, and Dylan Lewis, Mayor of Aberystwyth for the presentation of the certificates to the young people in front of an audience of proud parents, family members, tutors and guests.

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Contacts

Debra Croft, Centre for Widening Participation and Social Inclusion, Aberystwyth University. 01970 621890 / dec@aber.ac.uk  / http://www.aber.ac.uk/wpsi