What is Widening Participation?
I would define widening participation as five main things:
1: Raising the aspirations and confidence of those who are least likely to progress to Higher Education.
2: Preparing students for the university experience, from application to graduation, by giving them the skills and knowledge that they may not yet possess.
3: Working with younger students so that they aspire to higher education before they begin working on their life-altering qualifications.
4: Starting conversations between young people and their families about the benefits of Higher Education, and dispelling the myths that can dominate news headlines.
5: Understanding what young people perceive to be their barrier to Higher Education, and helping them to overcome this.
How can teachers contribute?
Government regulation requires every university charging the higher end of tuition fees to have an Access and Participation plan, which sets out their widening participation strategy. The approach will vary depending on the type of institution and their current student population, however, success for most will be reliant on engagement with schools. You can support initiatives by:
- identifying the students in your school who are most likely to meet widening participation criteria and encouraging them to apply to programmes in local universities.
- discussing the possibility of higher education with students from a young age, and encouraging and enabling ambition, talent and passion.
- establishing positive relationships with widening participation teams, benefitting your students, your school and the university.
Why do I work in Widening Participation?
I relate to students who meet the widening participation criteria. I was first in my family to go to university, I was in receipt of Educational Maintenance Allowance at sixth form, and from an area and school where, at the time, very few progressed to Higher Education.
I participated in a two-week Widening Participation summer school at Newcastle University, which enabled my progression to that institution with reduced entry requirements. The experiences afforded to me during, and since, my undergraduate degree have shaped who I am and what I do, and my hope is that every student I work with benefits to the same extent.
So what is (and isn't) Widening Participation?
Widening Participation is not about making every student attend university. It is about ensuring that every student considers it a possibility, that they have the confidence to do so and that they succeed in meeting their potential and achieving their dreams, without limitation.