Case study

Changing lives: The 'Wee University' initiative

23 Mar 2017

Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, officially launched University of the West of Scotland’s (UWS) new ‘Wee University’ initiative at its Ayr Campus in February 2017.

This new concept in early years education, created by UWS at its Ayr Campus, aims to provide opportunities to build an inclusive community of learning. It strives to enhance awareness at an early age of future educational opportunities, help break down potential barriers around access to further and higher education and boost the confidence of parents and carers around the opportunities offered to future students.

The Wee University sees UWS Childhood Studies students working in partnership with local early learning and childcare centres to promote lifelong family learning and innovative, creative educational experiences for children.

Launched as a pilot in session 2016-17 in collaboration with early years centres in South and East Ayrshire, the initiative has potential for future roll out across the University’s Scottish campus sites to help raise awareness of future learning opportunities to an even wider audience.

Professor Craig Mahoney, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of UWS, said: “We are delighted that Shirley-Anne Sommerville has officially launched our new ‘Wee University’ initiative that has been developed within our highly successful School of Education.  The Wee University is a hugely important development in early years education and involves collaboration between current UWS Childhood Studies students and early years learning centres to deliver tailored insight to under 5s, parents, carers and early years staff.

“At UWS we are committed to providing higher education opportunities for everyone and the Wee University will play a key role in raising the aspirations of our future learners in relation to opportunities for lifelong learning - a necessary first step to any transition to university.”

The Wee University of the West of Scotland is aligned with priorities for the Scottish Government’s Widening Access to University agenda, Raising Attainment for All and National Parenting Strategy.

Minister for Further and Higher Education and Science, Shirley-Anne Somerville, said: “Parents and families have a fundamental role in giving our young children the best possible start in life. Involving families in learning is an approach that leads to a happier life for both adults and their children.  Done well, it helps close the attainment gap through breaking cycles of deprivation and low attainment.  Its effects can extend beyond the duration of the child’s life and provide a lasting impact for the benefit of everyone in society.
“I’m delighted to launch the Wee University at the University of West of Scotland, I’m sure this will be a very successful initiative that provides an innovative opportunity for the local community, and particularly the younger generation, to get involved. 
“Education is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal to help overcome the barriers associated with inequality. It is the foundation on which our society is built and on which our economy grows.”

This project has the potential benefits of reducing barriers and encouraging transitions for children, parents/carers and Early Learning and Childcare staff as students of the future, as well as developing the employability skills of Childhood Studies students entering the workplace.

Professor Donald Gillies, Dean of the UWS School of Education, said: “UWS is a leader in Scotland in early years education and the ‘Wee University’ will see the University continue to be at the forefront of developments in this field.”

The event saw Shirley-Anne Somerville, Professor Mahoney and UWS staff and students being joined by nursery staff and children involved in the pilot project to officially launch the ‘Wee University’.