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Economy Needs Step-Up Initiative Says Minister Empey

Employment and Learning Minister Sir Reg Empey has described the University of Ulster’s Step-Up initiative as an integral part of the “economic vision” for Northern Ireland.         

The Minister was the guest speaker at the Step-Up programme’s ‘graduation’ ceremony at the Jordanstown campus today where 100 pupils from schools in the Greater Belfast area received certificates from the University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Richard Barnett.                    

“Northern Ireland, must secure a sustainable, globally competitive economy built on increased numbers of people with high level skills,” the Minister said.       

“This will enable our country to be world class. In order to achieve this goal Government clearly needs to reach out to groups which have not traditionally benefited from higher education. Step-Up is, therefore, an integral part of the economic vision for Northern Ireland and our objectives as a government.” 

The Step-Up programme aims to raise young people’s aspirations, expectations, and academic performance thereby facilitating their progression to higher education. It is focused on young people from schools located in areas of social and economic disadvantage that historically send a small proportion of their pupils to university. 

The pupils this year, the third cohort to graduate from the programme in Belfast achieved an outstanding 98% pass rate in the GCE Applied Science qualification with 78% achieving A-C grades. Nearly all of the pupils - 97% - already have their places secured at universities throughout the UK including many popular courses such as engineering, forensic science, law, mathematics, nursing, optometry, pharmacy, physiotherapy and radiography. 

Dr Damian O’Kane, Head of Access and Educational Partnerships at Ulster and Director of Step-Up, said: “The pupils have earned the right to progress to higher education through their ability and hard work. Their success is living proof that access to higher education can and should be based on merit and not upon the social class into which individuals are born, or the type of school they attend.” Dr O’Kane also welcomed the Minister’s pledge of an additional £340,000 to the programme, which Sir Reg announced at the ceremony.