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04 February 2011
Writing in the Western Mail just before Christmas, Dr Richard Lewis, the British Medical Association’s Welsh Secretary, emphasised the need to recruit medical students from all backgrounds.
Dr Lewis argued that Wales needs a medical profession which broadly reflects its diverse population. He stated that we need to remove any obstacles preventing bright students from lower socio-economic backgrounds from achieving their potential as doctors.
Cardiff University runs many initiatives to stimulate interest in medicine among young people from these backgrounds from an early age. For instance, we are taking our "Medical Roadshow" all around Wales, where it is proving extremely popular with Year 11 and Year 12 pupils. Our fourth year medical students explain what their studies involve, the grades needed, and how much work experience is expected in order to secure a place on a degree course. The pupils also have the chance to try out ‘hands-on’ simulations including measuring heartbeats and lung capacity.
The concept has proven so successful we are now extending it to other professions. For example, the "Built Environment" project offers pupils an insight into a range of careers including civil engineering, architecture and planning. The pupils are set a practical challenge of building a children’s park, observing sound engineering principles.
Another innovative scheme is our "Step-up to University" programme. This supports students from disadvantaged backgrounds in continuing their studies across a full range of subjects, including health. For most subjects, Step-up programmes are run in Community First areas, with Mountain Ash Comprehensive the latest school to sign up for the scheme. We run the programme in all parts of Wales for pupils interested in health subjects, given the Welsh Assembly Government’s drive to recruit to the healthcare professions.
Pupils on the scheme receive advice from current students acting as mentors, attend subject taster days and take part in residential summer schools. Anyone involved in the Step-up scheme who then applies to Cardiff to study medicine, dentistry, healthcare or nursing and midwifery is guaranteed an interview if they meet our academic requirements.
The professions are also well represented when we host our University Inspiration Days. The most recent of these was held last Saturday, attracting some 265 students from Community First areas in South-East Wales and South Powys.
Organised with the First Campus Reaching Wider Education Partnership, including all other South-East Wales Universities, students representing 55 different subjects talked to pupils about their courses and the careers their qualifications can lead to. Representatives from law partnerships, surveying firms, local government and many other professions were also available to talk about the range of doors a University degree can open. Parental support is often key to helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to progress into Higher Education, so we also ran sessions where parents could get answers to their questions on university life.
The benefits of all this activity are clear. Last year, nearly 60 pupils from our Step-up Schemes progressed onto Cardiff University degree courses. Around 100 more were accepted into universities elsewhere in the UK. Ten of the pupils coming to Cardiff were accepted onto the medical course, while others started professional degrees in dentistry, law, optometry, pharmacy and engineering.
In all, we have 1,520 students from Welsh Community First areas studying at Cardiff, some 12.5 per cent of all our students from Wales and the second highest total for any University in Wales. This is in addition to the large number of students from similar socio-economic backgrounds outside Wales. However, we are continually looking to increase these numbers.
It is hugely important that after helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter Higher Education, we support them throughout their studies, whether financially, practically or academically. Last year 37 per cent of our students benefited from a Cardiff University Bursary and we invested more than £3.8M to support students in need.
We are also mindful of the different needs of those from non-traditional backgrounds. Cardiff was the first of the Welsh universities to receive a Frank Buttle Trust Quality Mark, for the practical support we give ‘looked-after’ children and people leaving care to help them progress in higher education. Academically we ensure that whenever additional support in Maths or in English is needed, it is provided.
Our personal tutoring, careers support and mentoring makes sure we help students stay the course, achieve the very best that they can and graduate into new opportunities and employment.
We face a time of great uncertainty in university funding. Despite the challenges ahead, Cardiff University remains strongly committed to making higher education accessible to students of all backgrounds. We will continue our efforts to make sure that no-one is barred from our education by their circumstances and that the professions in Wales continue to benefit from the brightest Cardiff students, drawn from all parts of the Welsh community.
Professor Hywel Thomas
Pro Vice-Chancellor, Engagement and International
This article also appeared in the Western Mail’s ‘University View’ column February 3 2011
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