Brian Cox: universities need to play a bigger role in society

Interviewed in the Telegraph, Professor Brian Cox says that universities need to work alongside schools to raise aspirations, help close the skills gap, and make pupils aware of STEM opportunities…

…Figures published this year by the Higher Education Funding Council (Hefce) have revealed that more students than ever before have been accepted on to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses – an 8 per cent rise on last year and an 18 per cent rise since 2002.

However, while these figures look promising and will certainly go some way towards addressing the skills shortage that UK industry is currently experiencing, the challenge to persuade young people to pursue a career in STEM-related subjects remains.

Yet this is one challenge that Brian Cox has taken on, giving his backing to a science summer school initiative that opened today in Tower Hamlets.

From its conception three years ago, the event – run by the St Paul’s Way Trust School – has grown from single school participation to over 30 schools in Tower Hamlets and Newham taking part.

The summer school has played a part in the complete turn around of St Paul’s Way’s performance. Seven years ago the school was failing – yet in March 2013 it was given an official ‘Outstanding’ rating by Ofsted.

By focusing on key STEM targets, including increasing the uptake of science A-levels and STEM degrees, the school this year sent 48 per cent of A-level students to study STEM related courses at Russell Group Universities. 53 per cent of those were girls.

Yet, according to Brian Cox, who is hosting the summer school, more can still be done, particularly by universities, to encourage young people to take up these subjects…

One of the main problems that Prof Cox highlights as being a barrier to aspiration, particularly among schoolchildren from deprived communities, is their lack of experience of higher education, both via family and acquaintances.

Connecting universities and schools is one way that this challenge can be addressed; by connecting academics and post doctoral students with sixth form students – and younger pupils – the possible routes and opportunities become visible.

“At the moment, universities could play a bigger role in society,” he says. “At Manchester, for example, there is a vast pool of talent. The question is how can we deploy that talent as an engine of social change? How do you let business play a bigger role? How do you allow universities to play a role? There have to be financial incentives because universities are businesses.

The answer, Prof Cox continues, is never simply to hand over a lot of money. However, he does suggest that if there was funding made available, specifically to encourage universities to broaden their reach both into schools and local communities, then it would happen, because the desire is there…

More at: Brian Cox: universities need to play a bigger role in society

 

If the answer to raising participation amongst schoolchildren from deprived communities comes from connecting them to academics and post doc students, which seems to make a lot of sense, how can this better be achieved? Should funding be available to get far more of them into schools, running initiatives like St Paul’s Way summer school? Should the universities be funding more of this themselves?  Please tell us what you think and share any examples where you think it is already being done well…

 

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