Lack of support and not a lack of ambition is preventing young people from Yorkshire’s coastal towns applying to university, according to new research.
Data collected by the Office for Students last year showed that the numbers of teenagers enrolled on higher education courses was significantly lower in towns like Scarborough, Whitby and Filey than elsewhere in the county.
As a result, Owen Sloanes, an education researcher at York St John University, launched a 12-month project to pinpoint the reasons behind the statistics.
He said: “I’m from a working class background myself and was the first in my family to attend university. This was similar to many of the students that I spoke to and often they were struggling to see how they could access the world of higher education, even though they wanted to.
“We need to look at ways of ‘normalising’ higher education for young people who don’t have family with experience of it. One key area of focus is arguably finding ways to get family involved in the decision making process early on.”
Many of the students questioned said they wanted to remain living in their hometown, but complained that there was not enough variety of courses nearby to allow them to do that. They also said that increased contact with higher education throughout secondary school would help them understand the financial implications of studying for a degree.
Helen Smith, the project director of the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) York and North Yorkshire, which funded the project, said: “This research provides evidence of what we have uncovered anecdotally, namely that these young people do have ambitions and aspirations, what they lack is the road map which will lead them to where they want to be.
“This research will help inform our work in raising education standards in the coastal area in order that every young person can reach their full potential.”
The University of Sheffield is also spearheading a wider attempt to encourage more young people from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds to study at the country’s top universities.
According to the Office for Students, currently only 19 per cent of non-selective state school students apply to what are now described as ‘high-tariff’ universities, compared to 65 per cent of independent school students. The percentage is even lower for those considered to come from a ‘disadvantaged’ background.
The Elephant Group’s access programme, which was previously only offered in London, aims to narrow the education gap and A-Level students from Wakefield, Easingwold, Ripon and Bradford attended the launch in Sheffield.
They will now take part in a programme of workshops and activities designed to make them feel more confident about applying to university.
Professor Brendan Stone, the vice-president for education at the University of Sheffield, said: “I want to inspire young people to see that university is not only a vehicle to help build a career that may have seemed out of reach, but that it is also about being part of something much bigger.
“By gaining the skills and experience a university education affords, they will be able to challenge the status quo and provide the solutions to some of society’s greatest challenges.”