University of Cambridge: More than 900 A-Level students will join STEM SMART widening participation programme

Every eligible student who applied by the 31 October deadline has been offered a place on the course which will support them through the final year and a half of their A-Levels. They will receive enhanced learning and encouragement from Cambridge academics and current students – around 300 of whom have come forward to mentor the sixth formers and answer their questions about university life.

As well as complementing the sixth formers’ classroom studies, the programme aims to build confidence in students who in addition to disruption caused by COVID-19 have experienced wider educational disadvantage, and encourage them to apply to study engineering or physical sciences (such as physics, chemistry, Earth sciences and materials science) at top universities, including Cambridge.

When STEM SMART was announced in September, the University aimed to enrol around 750 A-level students for the start of the pilot, much of which will be delivered through the Isaac Physics online platform. However following an enthusiastic response, more than 900 have been signed up nationwide, including in Belfast, Glasgow, Newcastle, Hull, Manchester, Liverpool, Plymouth, Cardiff and Bristol. It is expected that many joining the programme will be at schools with little or no experience of sending students to Cambridge, so those who actively take part will be invited to attend a 4-day residential in Cambridge, when they will stay at a College, experience life as a Cambridge student, and consider whether to apply.

Physics lecturer Dr Lisa Jardine-Wright, who is co-directing the STEM SMART programme, said: “The response to the launch of STEM SMART has been amazing, and we are delighted to confirm places for more than 900 students, around 150 more than originally anticipated. Every eligible student who applied has been offered a place on the 17-month course of enhanced learning and we look forward to welcoming them at our launch at the beginning of January.”

Dr Michael Sutherland, co-director of STEM SMART, and Director of Studies in Natural Sciences at Corpus Christi College, said: “STEM SMART draws on the expertise of the University’s staff, the support of its Colleges, and the experience of its students – who came forward in their hundreds to act as mentors to these sixth formers. This innovative programme will complement the vital work of teachers in schools, and builds on the University’s work to help talented students access top universities regardless of background.”

STEM SMART (Subject Mastery and Attainment Raising Tuition) will provide A-Level (or equivalent) students with extra resources including weekly online tutorials by Cambridge academics who will mark work and give students individual feedback, small group supervisions, and live online motivational lectures. It will be free to all students taking part, following generous support and funding from the University, Colleges and the Department for Education England.

The programme continues widening participation progress made by the University in recent years, including the launch of a Foundation Year for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, which from 2022 will offer talented students from backgrounds of educational and social disadvantage a new route to undergraduate study, and the use of UCAS Adjustment to reconsider candidates who exceed expectations in examinations.

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