Outreach and Widening Participation – what is it and how do we do it?

In its latest strategic plan the University affirms its commitment to ‘increasing the range and type of widening participation activities’, but what does this mean? How do we widen participation? The Faculty of Science runs a varied programme of widening participation and outreach activities, working with pupils who are ‘most able, least likely’ to progress to University. School students of all ages visit the University to take part in science activities and learn more about University and where it can lead.  

The Chemistry schools lab has been running lab based practical classes for school pupils for a decade,  and several larger events such as the Animal and Plant Sciences Christmas lecture and Discovery Night have become firmly established in school calendars.  The sheer excitement of a thousand primary school children at the hugely successful Christmas lecture has to be seen to be believed and nearly lifts the roof of the Octagon Centre!  Capturing that interest in science early, and showing it can lead to a degree and a career is key to the work we do. We work with pupils from primary through to sixth form.  For example the School of Mathematics and Statistics runs an after school ‘Maths Academy’ for keen Maths A level students looking for a new challenge. Our own students are the best ambassadors for their subject, and they gain valuable skills and confidence by  taking part in outreach work.  

Last academic year saw the faculty:

  • Engage with around 8000 participants on events and projects
  • Interact with more than 41 secondary and 27 primary schools  
  • Attend UCAS fairs and school events to advise on science courses and careers
  • Run two departmental funding rounds to support 20 departmental events and projects
  • Recruit and train 45 new Science and Engineering Champions
  • Worked with PGR students to support them to develop and run their own outreach activities

Staff and students across the Faculty have also made the most of our equipment bank with 160 kit borrowings for outreach events (FoS staff only: You can access the equipment bank and make your own requests here). So – thank you for helping us spread the message either by being part of the Faculty events or by organising your own!

Wherever possible we are supporting new WP initiatives. Last year Science piloted the provision of open day travel bursaries for low income WP school students.  The pilot has now been rolled out across all faculties and is managed centrally. Another new initiative supports student employability, with bursaries to fund WP students wishing to undertake a work experience placement who could not otherwise afford to do so. 19 students were funded to complete a summer or Easter placement at firms including Blueprint Partnership (pharmaceutical market research), University of Cambridge, Life Sciences Centre Newcastle and Silverback films. Students gained valuable subject related work experience, and having the bursary scheme in place enabled our Careers service to develop links with companies who have not previously offered placements.

What next: If you are interesting in taking part in any outreach events please contact the team.