CHPR Blog April 2018 – Susan Coan
Undergraduate degrees now cost over £9k per year, but there is still a huge demand for higher education (HE). Newspapers frequently run articles questioning if/justifying why going to university is still worth it. The reasons for going range from the learning about something you love and expanding your social circle to increasing your earning potential after graduation and putting your new skills to use in the UK will benefit the nation. However, HE is not equally available to everyone.
It is well known that students from under-represented and disadvantaged groups face numerous barriers to accessing higher education and a lot of work has been done in institutions around improving access and participation. From our work with community groups across Leeds, particularly in the areas of highest deprivation, we found that one significant barrier was an internalised judgement that university was “not for people like me.” We decided that one way of dispelling the myth that university is only for a certain type of person from a certain type of background was to invite groups in to get a taste of what studying at our institution is actually like.
We designed the Community Learning Course to be as welcoming and accessible as possible whilst still giving a true feel of what students experience in their courses. We decided to offer 5 sessions from different university courses from the faculty Health and Social Sciences, followed by a final session providing practical advice on next steps, finances, study skills and what they can access at the university before they are students.
We have just completed our 4th Community Learning Course and our lecturers have delivered sessions from a selection of our courses including: Public Health, Youth & Community Studies, Playwork, Politics, Criminology, Psychology, Sociology, and Nursing. The tutors have enjoyed being involved as much as the participants and many have described it as being a highlight of their job:
“I enjoyed it immensely, and the students whom we met seemed to enjoy it too. I imagine that the course is of value to both the University and the participants.” [Tutor]
Recruiting mainly through our community partner groups, participants have come from a wide range of backgrounds including BAME, care leaver, refugee/asylum seeker, Gypsy/Traveller community, and young parents.
Participants have reported growing in confidence, enjoying meeting so many different people, learning a lot and perhaps best of all, finding out that people at uni are “normal” and not at all what they expected (in a good way!).
Several of our community learners have gone on to start university degrees (two here at Leeds Beckett), some have gone to do college courses (including access to HE courses) and others have been able to go back to their communities and share their experience. The tutors on the course and current students also shared their own accounts of studying as single parents, mature students and coming from under-represented backgrounds.
The course only runs over 6 weeks, but we have seen real changes in participants’ self-esteem and aspirations by the end. This snippet of feedback from our first course really sums up the experience many have had: from being on the outside, they then feel included and with a greater understanding of what they want to do next.
For more stats on access to education, go to https://www.offa.org.uk/press/quick-facts/
To read more about the our pilot Community Learning Course, click here