TODAY the Sunderland Echo launches a campaign to inspire Wearsiders to make the life-changing decision to go to university.
Such is the belief in the aims of our Degrees of Success Campaign it is being supported by an influential group of people and organisations across Sunderland, the region and the UK – from Lords and celebrities through to leading scientists and large multi-national corporations.
The campaign aims to help increase the number of graduates on Wearside, giving people with talent, regardless of background, the opportunity to fulfil their career ambitions, increase their earnings potential and ultimately enjoy a truly life-changing experience.
These graduates will make a real difference to this city, making it more knowledgeable, cultural, diverse and stronger economically.
Through the campaign we’ll show how university has transformed the lives of many thousands of Wearsiders from all backgrounds. Some of their stories, we are sure, will inspire you to follow them into higher education.
Degrees of Success comes exactly five years after the launch of our award-winning Moving On Up campaign, when it was revealed that fewer Sunderland teenagers were in higher education than almost anywhere else in the North East, which itself was struggling with the lowest university take-up in Britain.
This gap meant, in part, people living in Sunderland were more likely to be unemployed, earn less, claim more benefits, commit more crimes and lead an unhealthy lifestyle.
At that time only 19 per cent of young people from Sunderland were going to university. Since then, through the work of educationalists in Sunderland, supported by Labour Government funding, we have seen an improvement. However, that improvement is small, edging up three per cent – from 19 per cent to 22 per cent.
That increase is starkly put into context when the latest figures from the Higher Education Funding Council for England show that the national average for young people going to university is 36 per cent.
Rob Lawson, Sunderland Echo Editor, said: “We can’t hide from these figures. What we can do is tackle them head on and make a difference.
“That means this newspaper, supported by readers, teachers, parents, universities, colleges, graduates, councils and business, must lead the way in stressing how important university is for everyone’s future.
“If the city is going to prosper like many other UK cities, then the number of graduates in Sunderland needs to increase significantly. Over the next six months we will be doing everything we can to ensure this message gets across to everyone on Wearside and beyond.”
University of Sunderland Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Fidler said: “I’m delighted that the Sunderland Echo is so passionate about promoting the importance of higher education, I wholeheartedly support all their efforts.”
“We are committed to ensuring that people with talent get the opportunity to achieve their potential and in the process make an important contribution to the city.
“There are thousands upon thousands of Sunderland graduates out there who tell us their lives have been changed because of their experience with university.
“In fact, we have seen more than 30,000 graduates from Wearside go through our doors since we became a university in 1992. This figure is quite remarkable compared to the 20 years prior to 1992. However, as the latest figures show all too clearly, there is still a long way to go.
“Nonetheless, we will do all we can to ensure all as many people as possible with talent are afforded the chance to come to university and have that life-changing experience.”
Sunderland City Council leader Councillor Paul Watson said: “We have to show our young people that it is possible to overcome the barriers to go to university, and remind them and future employers of the long term benefits it provides individually and collectively.”
“Working with partners such as the University of Sunderland is one of the ways in which this can be achieved, and we fully support the Sunderland Echo’s campaign to promote the importance of higher education.”
The council’s Deputy Executive Director of Children’s Services, Mike Foster, said: “We must continue to raise aspiration alongside attainment in all our schools and colleges, and assure all our young people that higher education is still an option.”
Figures show that on average graduates can earn £100,000 more over the course of a career than people with just GCSEs or A-levels.
And despite higher tuition fees being introduced next year, a recent survey commissioned by the BBC revealed that nine out of 10 students would not be deterred from attending university, with half saying they would consider selecting university closer to home to cut living costs. Overall the survey suggested that the benefits of university outweighed the costs.
Since 1992, when Sunderland Polytechnic was granted its University status, 30,631 people from Wearside have achieved a qualification, from a degree to a PhD, at the university.