Ulster University (UU) is a prestigious institution with a national and international reputation for excellence, innovation, and regional engagement.
As a home to more than 27,000 students, UU contributes significantly to the economic, social, and cultural development of Northern Ireland. Recognising its civic responsibility, UU focuses on widening access to education, aligned with Sustainable Development Goal 4 – Quality Education. Currently, around 40% of its students come from widening access backgrounds. The Schools Outreach Team targets pupils in low socio-economic areas, aiming to increase higher education progression rates and address underrepresentation in Northern Ireland.
What Ulster University did
To overcome logistical and socioeconomic barriers, UU developed the ‘Ulster University Discovery Academy.’ This innovative Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) offers a wide range of courses, allowing pupils from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 5 to explore university pathways and opportunities. The Academy is accessible to all pupils, eliminating the need for expensive campus visits and reducing the carbon footprint. Since its launch in September 2021, the Discovery Academy has enrolled over 21,000 pupils from 73% of Northern Ireland’s post-primary schools. It offers 65+ courses complementing the school curriculum.
Outcomes and Benefits
- Significantly increased pupil engagement, knowledge, confidence, and aspiration levels – 73% of Northern Ireland’s post-primary schools engaged
- Over 21,000 pupils have enrolled in the Ulster University Discovery Academy since its launch in September 2021
- Enhanced understanding of higher education pathways and increased desire to apply to university
- Improved accessibility and inclusivity, catering to different learning styles, abilities, and backgrounds
- Young people empowered to make informed decisions about their future, driving local economies, and ensuring diversity and inclusion
- Positive impact on UU’s sustainability and carbon reporting, with decreased carbon footprint due to reduced transportation and paper waste
- Over 1,000 pupils have taken part in the ‘Embracing Talent’ course on the VLE
- The VLE’s cost per learner reduced to approximately £2.04, representing a substantial cost reduction
- Inclusive access to university education for underrepresented groups, including first-generation students, those from low socioeconomic areas, and those with disabilities
- Collaborative partnerships with schools, community groups, and regional colleges to support skills development and social mobility
- Alignment with SDG 4, promoting lifelong learning opportunities and improving the employability of students
The Ulster University Discovery Academy serves as a model for inclusive and sustainable education outreach, making a profound and lasting impact on young people’s lives and society at large.
What the Judges said
“Ulster University demonstrated excellent use, and innovative application, of the technology to produce a great set of outcomes. There were very wide-ranging benefits to society, including teachers, pupils, parents and the economy. There has been a clear benefit to the University in terms of cost savings, carbon footprint, and engagement.”