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Specialist STEM course to break down barriers for young people who have learning disabilities

Breaking Barriers At Strathclyde Uni 002

The University of Strathclyde is welcoming a new cohort of students to its science campus this October as it embarks on its first STEM iteration of the trailblazing Breaking Barriers programme led by Enable. 

Breaking Barriers is a programme that works with young people who have a learning disability and additional barriers to education and employment to ensure they have the support required to access university life, can undertake work experience opportunities with leading employers, and gain a university qualification from a world-class academic institution.

Following the success of the business course at the University of Strathclyde since 2018, the science course has been added to the programme, giving the young people the chance to focus on STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) both in the classroom and within a work environment for the first time. 

Balfour Beatty has been announced as this year’s corporate partner. The infrastructure group will offer on-the-job training and mentorship to the young people taking part in Breaking Barriers. 

Whilst 45% of all Scotland’s school leavers go to university, only 8.6% of school leavers who have a learning disability go on to higher education. Now, eight young people with a keen interest in STEM will graduate from the course with a host of new skills that can be used as they embark on the world of work. 

The programme offers students a six-week placement in university and then a six-week placement with a corporate partner.

Kieran is one of the students who is starting the STEM course with the University of Strathclyde, he said: “I feel a bit nervous and excited about the course work, meeting new people and making new friends along the way. I am looking forward to university lectures as they will help ease me into work experience. In my past experience of higher education, it felt a bit too much and I felt I had to take a step back from learning. Breaking Barriers is a much smaller group size making it easier to get support and get to know the lecturers.”

Enable runs the programme through its Enable Works division that sets out to break down barriers to employment for people with disabilities.  Currently the specialist employability service is active in 28 local authorities across Scotland and support 5,500 people each year. The development programmes are all about getting people of all ages ready for work – and supporting their individual needs every step of the way.

Enable CEO and co-founder of the Breaking Barriers programme, Theresa Shearer, said: “Since 2018, the Breaking Barriers programme has made it possible for students who have a learning disability to access the life-shaping experience of university that is a rite of passage for so many, yet it is currently available to so few disabled young people.

“Breaking Barriers demonstrates how the public, private and third sectors can work collaboratively to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in education and the workplace. Thanks to our partners at University of Strathclyde and Balfour Beatty I am delighted to see those opportunities extended to even more young people across Scotland.”

Breaking Barriers is in its fifth year and works with corporate partners including STV, Scottish Power and EY. The programme has business courses with both Strathclyde Business School and Edinburgh Napier University, and can now add science to its list of offerings at the University of Strathclyde. 

Professor Duncan Graham, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Strathclyde said: “We are delighted to be working with Enable on the Breaking Barriers initiative. As a socially progressive university we seek to provide opportunities for people from a wide range of backgrounds to join our University community and we are thrilled to have this group of students join us to learn in the Faculty of Science.”

The programme is designed to provide people who have a learning disability the opportunity to experience the world of work and equip themselves with further education that paves the way to sustainable, long –term employment.  

Hector Macaulay MBE, Managing Director of Balfour Beatty’s UK Construction Services business in Scotland said: “At Balfour Beatty, we are committed to creating a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture – continually seeking new ways to break down the barriers people face in both education and employment. 

“Through our partnership with The University of Strathclyde and ENABLE, we are going one step further than before; providing an unrivalled opportunity for people with disabilities to expand their skills and knowledge whilst working on some of the most exciting construction projects in Scotland.”

Breaking Barriers has previously been recognised for its excellence at the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards 2020 where it won the Spotlight Award, and the Times Higher Education Awards 2019 where it won the Widening Participation / Outreach Initiative of the Year award.