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Dozens of school pupils in Londonderry will take a step closer to higher education when they graduate from a University of Ulster outreach programme later today. 

Sixty-seven pupils from St Cecilia’s College, St Mary’s College, St Joseph’s Boys School, St Brigid’s College and Lisneal College have successfully completed the University of Ulster’s Step-Up programme, obtaining vocational A-Levels in Science subjects, which will help them to progress to university. 

The guest speaker at the ceremony, which begins at 5pm, will be Dame Joan Harbison, former chair of the Equality Commission and currently the Older People’s Advocate for Northern Ireland. 

Step-Up aims to provide opportunities for talented young people to consider studying in a higher education institution. It specifically targets young people who live in areas of social and economic disadvantage and provides academic support to help improve performance in science based subjects. 

Since its inception in 2000 almost 1,000 students from the North West and Belfast have successfully completed the programme, with 99.8% obtaining the Applied GCE Science qualification. Almost 75% of students have obtained double ‘A’ or ‘B’ grades with the remainder achieving ‘C’ grades. 26% of students have achieved straight ‘A’ grades. 

Dr Damian O’Kane, Head of Access and Educational Partnerships and Director of Step-Up, said: “Step-up clearly demonstrates what can be achieved when universities in partnership with schools and industry are encouraged to strengthen and enrich the secondary school curriculum and actively engage students in academic work that they perceive as meaningful and motivating.”