Excerpt

The Junior University (Universidade Júnior - U.Jr) is a very large educational program conducted during the summer months, mainly aimed at 10-18 year olds, organized by the University of Porto.
The Junior University program has the purpose of dissemination of different areas of knowledge, offering summer courses designed by university professors, for the youngsters.

Narrative, origins and objectives of the initiative

What kind of project is this? Please give a short description (summary) of it.

The Junior University (Universidade Júnior - U.Jr) is a very large educational program conducted during the summer months, mainly aimed at 10-18 year olds, organized by the University of Porto.
The Junior University program has the purpose of dissemination of different areas of knowledge, offering summer courses designed by university professors, for the youngsters. The program offers non-formal activities that cover a wide range of areas, from basic sciences to technologies, from humanities to arts and sports, that allow students to acquire knowledge, which can help them in formal education contexts and everyday life activities. It also has the purpose to provide support in the process of vocational choice and return to society a part of the investment that was made and contribute to mitigate the low HE rates of the country, one of the aspects that throughout history has been one of the main reasons for the country’s underdevelopment.

Please tell us why, in general, this project is considered a successful one?

The Junior University has as main goal the promotion of knowledge – in the fields of science, technology, art, humanities and sport – among basic and secondary level pupils. To this end, several learning programs and small research projects are annually designed by university lecturers and executed mostly by undergraduate and graduate students, or fresh graduates under supervision, in some cases junior researchers. The Junior University usually organizes more than 150 different activities covering many areas of knowledge.

The university has been addressing multiple issues such as: vocational orientation, introduction to specific scientific areas or topics, the promotion of higher education and knowledge-based careers. It also provides a glimpse into everyday life in the 14 faculties that integrate the university. Another important component of the university is the promotion of pupils from underprivileged socioeconomic groups through a wide partnership with several Portuguese municipalities, associations and enterprises.

Almost seven thousand students were enrolled in the university's activities during 2018. The students were from all over the world.

The connections and networks between the pupils frequently continue beyond the participation in the summer courses. The pupils  often contact the University of Porto, sometimes within the framework of some work they are doing with their teachers at school, other times to exchange some points of view or to get information about possible choices for the future at the university.

The University of Porto is aware that very diverse factors shape students' choice of the university, but the Junior University is sure that the promotion of knowledge among young people can be indirectly translated in HE student recruitment.

And why would you consider it a grass-roots initiative?

What challenges needed to be solved in this project?

Since Junior University is a project that is taking place for the 14th time, the project had to deal with the need for more social studies and the definition of new evaluation strategies and impacts. Many years of experience made the assess of the impact the Junior University program had on 1st year student enrollment in the university that promotes the program possible. The sources used for these kind of studies are the university's database, which includes information on geographical provenience, type of school (private or state funded) and the national identity card number of the participants, which allowed for their follow-up.

Junior University continues to consider it necessary to evaluate the project and its impact on the community. It turns out to be especially relevant in the student community, which has undergone various expenses, as it influences their decisions at school level when it comes to choosing subjects, or for example at the end of school when they need to prepare to enter college.

Another challenge is always to get enough funds, therefore Junior University is also trying to attract more funds, for instance through the support of more companies, patrons, municipalities, government and funding programs. Even if the university sees its investment as part of its social role as an ethical and social commitment to the community, the challenge of making the program self-sustaining still remains, since tuition fees paid by participants do not cover the total expenses.

Is this initiative based on any particular theoretical framework? Which one?

Junior University is not based on any particular theoretical model, but rather on a wide range of approaches:

  • the active role of the student;
  • the offer of creative and interactive activities for individuals and groups
  • the use of interdisciplinary approaches (whenever possible);
  • the communication with adult audience, disseminating the activities of research centers and postgraduate training offers;
  • the promotion of awareness of the common citizen of the university’s relevance for social, technological, cultural, economic and environmental development.

Furthermore, it wants to strengthen the collaboration between formal, non-formal and informal educational providers, enterprise, industry and civil society, as it ensures a relevant and meaningful engagement of all societal actors with science and increase uptake of science studies and science-based careers to improve employability and competitiveness.

(Appendix) Is your intervention standing on its own or is it a part of a bigger and more holistic approach?

Please describe the group(s) intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

Why has this group (have these groups) been chosen?

In 2005 the University wanted to face a new challenge on how to bring children and university together. The question was how to foster the interest for knowledge among youngsters.

The university thought about ways to encourage curiosity and promote knowledge, for instance in different scientific fields like natural sciences, technology, languages and arts, history and sports. In the Portuguese community these approaches begin to emerge more clearly in school; mainly from 10/11 years old (basic school).

The idea is to guide students from basic and secondary levels to self-orientation to find their potential and opportunities. When they enroll in Junior University activities the intention is to introduce them to specific scientific areas or topics. This allows them to promote higher education and knowledge-based careers. In fact, pupils have the opportunity to try, discover, explore and understand a little of the everyday life at the university in one or more of the 14 faculties or research institutes.

Could you please tell us something about the relative size of the (of each) target group, within the school/university population, region and/or country?

In the last edition of Junior University organized 168 different programs with the contribution of more than 200 professors and researchers. Almost 7,000 students enrolled in these activities in small groups of 14 or 16 people.

The largest number of these participants were from the country’s northern region. However, there were also a significant number of children and teenagers from all over Portugal, both from the continent and from the Azores and Madeira islands. Junior University has also become known in foreign countries and participants have come from countries such as the USA, Spain, France, China, Thailand, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, in addition to children of foreign origin who live in Portugal.

Which social characteristics are taken into account and what is the geographical area covered?

Junior University takes place at the campus of the Porto University in Oporto, the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon.

The social characteristics taken into account have been confirmed through several studies that have already pointed out the benefits of educational out-of-school programs, particularly for students of low-income families, such as:

  • reducing the summer holidays' “learning gap”;
  • reducing school drop-outs;
  • keeping HE as a plausible goal, despite an adverse socio-economic background;
  • providing a setting for interaction with students from diverse origins.

Establishing agreements with many municipalities at a national level that support financially and provide transportation for local students, allows them to participate and benefit from the summer school.

On which level is the project implemented?

Please describe the political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

Did the initiative have political support?

The political support that Junior University gets from the municipalities, provide transportation and financial assistance for local students. The University of Porto also invests a part of its budget in this program, because the fees payed by the participants are not enough to cover all the costs of the project.

The initiative is estimated as 700.000 Euros for each edition. These costs are partly covered by families (each student pays 80 Euros for registration), and project’s partner entities (e.g. municipalities and companies). The university also covers a significant part of these costs (about 15 %). The program doesn’t count with any funding by the agencies for scientific dissemination.

How did it fit with local, regional or national policies?

The Portuguese government and education policy leaders have been working on strengthening science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. On one hand this effort is about fostering research and development in the country, while on the other hand it is about increasing the public awareness of science in schools and in the overall population.

To increase the proficiency in STEM, students and teachers are invited to address increasingly complex problems, employ STEM concepts and apply creative and innovative solutions to their daily lives, raising awareness of the importance of STEM and by promoting interest in STEM subjects.

Within this scope the main activities of to the overall program of the Junior University comes from science and technology, fine arts, arts and life sciences, which meets these goals of the Portuguese government.

Who are the stakeholders supporting the initiative?

Internal: Academic community: Schools, Research units, Rectory and Social Services.

External: Educational partners: cultural, scientific, educational and business institutions of the city and region.

Logistic partners: National Ministry of Defense (accommodation halls).

Local governments: Agreements with municipalities to allow the free participation of talented young people who are in an economically disadvantaged situation. Local governments disseminate the project among schools and offer transportation, registration fees or accommodation.

Corporate partners: Companies in the food, publishing, communication, and transportation sector.

Are there particular demographic changes present that are influencing the project?

No. Junior University is usually able to attract students from all over the country, of course in a larger scale from the City of Porto and surroundings. The program is very stable at the moment.

What is the institutional strategy and culture of the (educational) organization?

The University of Porto plays a strong role in the surrounding region and wishes to play a key role in the future. Accordingly, its mission is “to create scientific, cultural and artistic knowledge, to promote the economic and social value of knowledge, and to actively participate in the progress of the community it is part of. But the university's ambitions far exceed its regional focus. The university sees itself not only as a HEI but also as a center of research and development, seeking to be among the best in Europe.

This vision relies on four strategic pillars: Education, Research, Internationalization and Governance. Being one of the largest HEI in Portugal, and the most wanted university. the University of Porto plays an important role in the country’s HE development and also has an increased sense of responsibility with regards to the progress that needs to be made in HE in the country.

To what extent does the initiative have an influence on institutional policy (or potential influence) of the (educational) organization?

The initiative reinforced the culture of cooperation and teamwork inside the university, because all the academic staff are invited by the Rector to propose ideas for each edition of the initiative.

The program, and particularly the “Schools for Introduction to Research”, has also been seeking to attract the best students to the University of Porto. Since 2006 the number of students that had participated in the program and subsequently enrolled at the university has been increasing.

Moreover, the University of Porto is consistently attracting students with the highest grades at national level as it is strongly convinced that there is a close link between these results and the Junior University.

(Appendix) Is there public support for your initiative and the issue it addresses?

(Appendix) What other factors do you think have been important for the success of this initiative?

Please describe the overall initiative design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

Please describe the specific activities carried out.

The Junior University has two important projects per year: In July, the general program (for students between the 5th and 12th years of schooling) and in September the schools of introduction to scientific research. The program between July and September it a very big program receiving more than 6000 youngsters.

The general program counts on the contribution of 14 faculties, a business school, several research institutes and other educational parties. The general program is a weekly program divided in:

- “Summer Experiences” and “Summer Workshops” where each student participates in five different activities, each of them dedicated to a specific scientific area.

- “Thematic Workshops” - two groups working on two areas of knowledge get together to share ideas and present their conclusions.

- “Summer in a Project” is constituted by activities dedicated to one topic.

- The “Language School” aims at developing or initiating the language skills of the students in a variety of languages.

The schools of introduction to research targets students with good academic results at secondary level and focus on the areas of Chemistry, Physics, Maths and Life and Health Sciences. Students from the secondary level can apply, but only a few are admitted depending on their school marks and grades. The best secondary students selected can work closely with professors and researchers for 5 days. They guide small groups of students through demanding projects in the fields of bio-materials, bone regeneration, molecular biology, genetic engineering, cardiology, sports and health, pharmacy, nutrition, cancer, veterinary medicine, chemistry, physics, mathematics…

What were the key roles (teacher, student, management team etc.) within the project?

The programs are designed and organized by university professors and implemented by under- and postgraduate students under the supervision of senior professors and researchers.

The planning, coordination and implementation of Junior University are provided by three structures:

Executive/Scientific Board, Coordination and activities’ Tutors.

Executive/Scientific Board: Constituted by University of Porto professors. Its main responsibility is to assess and select the activities submitted at the ideas’ contest.

Coordination: It is responsible for the project’s implementation on technical, logistical and financial levels.

Tutors: A vast team of students and young researchers are responsible for presenting the proposals, preparing the programs and monitoring the activities under the supervision of senior professors and researchers.

What ideas, tools, theories, models, methodology (etc.) have been used to reach the goals?

See question 2.

What are the final revenues of the project?

Please describe if your project ensured its sustainability

If so, how did you ensure the short-term impact of the project?

The University of Porto devotes special attention to pre-university students and works with schools from all around the country to develop mechanisms to bring professors closer to their potential students.

The Junior University program reached a level of stability in such a way that, in order to maintain the standards of quality, it is not feasible to continue increasing the number of participants.

The University of Porto governance recognizes the importance of this project for the institution, that’s why it annually invests a small part of its budget.

And how did you ensure the long-term impact of the project?

The Junior University program is now a very stable and well-established project, which is always searching for innovative ideas for the summer program, but also for year-round activities. The academic community proposes new activities annually, contributing to the renewal of the project and other educational partners as well.

Has your project been replicated elsewhere?

Please tell us about the resources used in this initiative

What was the budget for the initiative?

The initiative is estimated at 700,000 EUR per year.

Human Resources: Academic community – students, teaching and administrative staff.

Physical infrastructures: University of Porto’s or partner institutions’ facilities – University canteens provide the more than 70.000 meals; seven buses are used to transport the participants on field trips. The transportation of the students from other regions all over the country to Porto are supported by the local authorities’ services. More than 1,000 students enroll in the lodging program.

Communication:  This is carried out at national level through – Media: national and regional newspapers, radio and television; Internet: the websites of the university and their partners;

Newsletter: The university has a weekly newsletter that dedicates one section to young people and schools.

Advertising materials: Posters and flyers are sent to schools and local governments and distributed at school fairs. Mupis are placed in Porto and surroundings.

How much did the initiative depend on volunteers?

How were the costs perceived by the public/the sector/other stakeholders?

To what extent did the initiative achieve its objectives?

Please describe the evidence to support the success of your initiative.

Statistical analysis reveals that a significant number of participants in the Junior University tend to choose the University of Porto when they finish their secondary degree course. The chart shows that it counts the participants in at least one edition of Junior University that entered the University of Porto in the main phase of national access to HE. We omitted subsequent enrollments. In 2018, in each 5 1st year students, around 1 had their first contact with the institution through Junior University (21,15%).

Did the intervention lead to any unintended (positive) outcomes?

The project reached the interest of a growing number of many partners, especially educational partners. Partnerships with international universities were also welcome.

In 2008 Junior University supported to establish an international European network, the European Children’s University Network with it’s headquarter in University of Wien. EUCU.NET established an interactive and collaborative Web Portal with the intention of supporting the interaction and exchange of information and providing ongoing support for members. The network established Mentoring Partnerships who fostered the transfer of know-how and created a framework for cooperation.

What indicators (quantitative and qualitative) have you measured to demonstrate success?

Since 2006 the University of Porto has been comparing some data that has been systematically collected and analyzed from the Junior University's editions. It is now possible to assess the impact that this program has on 1st year student enrollment at the University of Porto, as presented in the first sub-question.

(Appendix) How did you evaluate/monitor this intervention?