BRIGHT children from poor families are to be offered extra tuition and bursaries to help them study at the region’s most prestigious university.

Talented secondary school pupils and sixth formers from the North-East will be offered bursaries of up to £2,000 a year and summer schools, to boost their chances of succeeding at Durham University.

Candidates for the university’s newly-launched Supported Progression Programme will be selected based on criteria, including prior academic achievement, evidence of motivation, and socio-economic background.

Youngsters who complete a two-year programme, including an assessed residential summer school, will receive a qualification worth points towards Durham’s entry requirements – and a guaranteed offer of a place if they apply to the department they achieve the certificate with.

Bursaries towards university costs will be available for those who go on to study a Durham degree course.

Thirty-six undergraduate places will be offered for the scheme – one per cent of the university’s annual undergraduate intake.

The scheme will be piloted among year 12 students across County Durham from January and could be extended to include year ten and 11 pupils from the county and year ten, 11 and 12 pupils from Teesside in 2010-11.

Areas of County Durham and Teesside have some of the lowest education participation rates in the country.

Professor Anthony Forster, Durham University’s provice- chancellor for teaching and learning, said: “We know that many young people have the ability to succeed here at Durham, but they lack the confidence or aspiration to apply here.

“This scheme provides an effective means of identifying and assessing their merit and potential from a young age, so these students can benefit from the first-class researchled teaching and distinctive student experience we offer.

“Durham is committed to recruiting the brightest and best students irrespective of background.

“The programme will not lower our entry standards and all those who successfully gain a place will have demonstrated a level of ability equivalent to our standard offer.”

The departments involved are anthropology, biological sciences, business, finance and economics, criminology, earth sciences, geography, law, modern languages, physics, psychology (applied), sociology, sport, political science and theology.

Applications and selection for the scheme will take place next month. For more information, go to

No school qualifications, but now a surgeon

JAY WALKER left school at 16 with no qualifications other than a swimming badge.

Now, he is on track to become a plastic surgeon – and says Durham University changed his life.

The Stockton-born father-of-two spent seven years in the Army with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers before deciding to pursue a career in medicine.

The 33-year-old feared his background might be a barrier to him becoming a doctor.

But he enrolled on an access course at the Foundation Centre, at Durham University’s Queen’s Campus, in Stockton, where he gained the skills and knowledge needed to embark on an undergraduate medical degree course.

He completed a two-year diploma in medical sciences at Durham, before finishing his training at Newcastle University, and is now a senior house officer training to be a surgeon at the University Hospital of North Durham, in Durham.

Dr Walker, who now lives in Bearpark, near Durham, said: “Durham University changed my life unbelievably and it can do that for anyone who is looking for a first-class education and a good time.

“The university gave me the opportunity to be whoever I wanted to be, as long as I was prepared to do the work and meet the standards expected of me.

“It opens you up to new opportunities and shows you what you can achieve if you put the work in. I got all the support I needed to get me started in medicine and I will always think of Durham as home.”