Effectiveness of government drive to widen access to university examined at conference

Posted by ap507 at Mar 16, 2016 10:50 AM |
New initiatives to be presented at Widening Participation Summit on 21 March at University of Leicester

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 16 March 2016

How can young people from disadvantaged backgrounds be encouraged to attend university and gain a higher education?

This question will be discussed at the University of Leicester’s Widening Participation Summit on 21 March when university staff will report on new initiatives and examine what more can be done.

Leicester is the only selective university that has consistently met its targets for the recruitment of students from state education and lower socio-economic groups.

“The summit underlines how important widening participation is to our core values,” says Professor Emma Smith, who is the University’s Academic Lead for Widening Participation.

“It is at the heart of teaching and good practice at the university. It is not just about who goes to which university and what they study, but it is about their experience while at university and what happens to them after their degree.”

Leicester’s strong commitment to the issue means that it has launched a wide variety of activities to encourage widening participation including the LEAP programme, which offers a select group of disadvantaged young people the opportunity to attend a summer school, be counselled by mentors and undertake a project. It has also been working with primary schools to raise the aspirations of young children, and offers masterclasses to young people given by academics.

Leicester holds university experience days enabling secondary school pupils to visit its campus and find out what studying is all about. And it organises residential summer schools in genetics, archaeology and modern languages (the latter sponsored by Santander).

The University works with schools and teachers locally and has joined with other institutions in a collaboration to promote fair access and social mobility of students from under-represented groups.

On average 2,000 secondary school pupils a year are welcomed onto Leicester’s campus for these activities. In addition, it sends its students into local schools – where they spend an average of more than 3,000 hours each year.

The summit will examine these initiatives and assess the impact of the Government’s call for selective universities to do more to support fair access and student success.

Those taking part will be briefed about the demographics of applicants and entrants in their departments, examining which departments are doing well at recruiting disadvantaged students and which not so well. It will also report on the impact of outreach initiatives.

“If there are departments that are under-recruiting, we need to ask what the reasons are and what could be done about it,” said Professor Smith. “We need to look at how that could inform our outreach activities.”

Addressing the summit will be Dr Hannah Ordoyno, the university’s new Widening Participation Manager, and Professor Jacqueline Stevenson, the Sheffield Institute of Education’s Head of Research, who will talk about new approaches to researching and evaluating widening participation.

The university is investing in research into widening participation by funding two Masters’ scholarships so that students may take postgraduate degrees in research methods in widening participation.

“It is about building capacity in widening participation,” said Professor Smith. “We need to make sure we have high quality research that will tell us whether our interventions are working or not.”

At the end of the summit, widening participation awards will be presented to recognize staff and students who have excelled at supporting widening participation students.


Notes to Editors:

The Widening Participation Summit takes place at 9 am on Monday, 21 March in College Court in Leicester. The event aims to inform and improve the Government’s work to enhance the educational opportunities of those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

For more information contact Professor Emma Smith on es228@leicester.ac.uk

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