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University of East Anglia announces new project to engage young people in research

Thu, 31 Jan 2013

The University of East Anglia will help Norfolk and Suffolk school children learn about cutting edge research - thanks to a multi million pound initiative.

It is one of 12 universities to benefit from a share of Research Councils UK (RCUK) funding, which totals more than £3.5 million including matched funding from universities, schools and businesses.

The three-year national School-University Partnerships Initiative (SUPI) will see UEA working with City of Norwich School as a lead partner, along with Wymondham High School, Attleborough High School, Archbishop Sancroft High School in Harleston, Thetford Academy and the Norwich School. Meanwhile Suffolk schools involved include the Kesgrave and Farlingaye Teaching Alliance.

The aim is to motivate young people from a diversity of backgrounds to be excited about cutting edge research and raise their aspirations for further study and future lives.

It will also give early career researchers at UEA the opportunity to develop their transferable skills through training and by working with school students. Meanwhile teachers will be encouraged to engage with research in ways that have maximum impact on teaching quality and learning.

Dr Kay Yeoman from UEA's school of Biological Sciences is leading the project. She said: "We are delighted to have been awarded £150,000 for this exciting project. We will work with partner schools and researchers from across the Norwich Research Park in a variety of disciplines to get school students more aware of research, what it is, and why it's important."

The cash boost will help Dr Wendy McMahon from UEA's school of American Studies establish a 'Teacher: Humanities Network'. It will mirror an already successful 'Teacher: Scientist Network', run by Dr Phil Smith from the John Innes Centre, which sees science teachers partnered with researchers to help youngsters learn more about the very latest scientific breakthroughs.

"We are particularly interested in setting up cross-disciplinary projects," said Dr Yeoman. "A really good example is our partner schools working with the Science Art and Writing Trust, which is run by Prof Anne Osbourn and Dr Jenni Rant from the John Innes Centre.

"We will also work with other national STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subject providers, such as the Engineering and Development Trust, to encourage pupils to use research from different disciplines to solve problems."

Kate Nichols, head of science at CNS, said: "We are thrilled about the opportunities that we will now have from the links and funding of the project. We are excited to take on the role of the lead school and look forward to our students getting involved - the event planning is already underway."

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said: "Maintaining a good supply of scientists and researchers is vital to our economy and society, but to do this we need to draw talent from as wide a pool as possible. That is why the School-University Partnerships Initiative is so important. It will help to encourage young people from all backgrounds to pursue a career in research by connecting them with the UK's world class academic community."

Prof John Womersley, RCUK Champion for Public Engagement, said: "The quality of the proposals we received for this initiative was outstanding, and I am very excited about the impact these projects will have. By helping schools and universities to get together in a structured way with clear goals, we aim to encourage quality interactions between students and researchers in a broad range of disciplines. Hopefully this will inspire young people of all backgrounds to engage with and potentially pursue a career in research."

Other UEA colleauges involved in the project include Rowena Burgess, a lecturer in the school of History, who will set up a history conference for sixth formers. Meanwhile Dr Laura Bowater from UEA's Norwich Medical School will lead sessions for school students on what questions in research they think are important.

An evaluation of the project is being directed by Prof Elena Nardi from the school of Education and Lifelong Learning. And Caroline Still will look after communicaiton between partner schools.