Event to boost the success of under-represented students
The conference, hosted by our University Strategy for Access, Support and Success (SASS) Steering Group, was attended by colleagues from across our University’s services and faculties, with attendees being nominated from each area.
The SASS group has overseen the development, implementation and monitoring of our Access Agreements since May 2014. These are submitted to the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), the organisation which promotes the accessibility of education to under-represented groups, to demonstrate our commitment to access and widening participation and frame our future strategies for supporting these student groups.
The aim of the Enhancement and Evaluation to Promote Student Access, Support and Success conference was to engage colleagues across our University in discussion around our approach to widening participation and student support. This was focused around how we can maximise success for those students that come from low participation groups and areas, as well as an exploration of sector best practice and our obligations as a provider of higher education to raise aspirations and motivation for students that come from these groups.
Our Access Agreement commitments featured at the heart of the conference, promoting a collective approach to enhancing student support for widening participation students across our faculties and services.
The keynote presentation was provided by Professor Les Ebdon CBE, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education and head of the Office for Fair Access to Higher Education (OFFA), with an opening welcome speech from Professor Phil Cardew, Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic.
Professor Cardew commented: “Leeds Beckett University is committed to ensuring that we offer opportunities to students who might otherwise face barriers to entering higher education. We are also committed to ensuring that all our students are as successful as possible, and achieve the best possible results with us, whatever their background or route into university. Work on Student Access, Support and Success is crucial both in understanding what is needed to support these commitments, and in sharing that understanding (and the good practice we already demonstrate) across our University.
“We were particularly pleased to welcome Les Ebdon CBE, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, to our University to give the opening keynote address. Les is known for his commitment to widening access and participation in higher education, and his support for our work is greatly valued.”
Prior to taking up his role at OFFA in September 2012, Professor Les Ebdon CBE was previously Vice Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire. He was awarded a CBE in 2009 for services to local and national higher education. Professor Ebdon’s presentation provided an overview of the role of OFFA and considered how higher education providers can respond to the current shifts in the policy landscape, along with any early indicators of how the role of OFFA may change as part of the new policy landscape.
Professor Ebdon said: “There has been a 61% increase in 18 year olds from the most under-represented backgrounds entering higher education since access agreements came into place and I commend universities like Leeds Beckett who have done some of the heavy lifting. We are sure that this is down to the effort that many universities are making. Here at Leeds Beckett I’m particularly interested in your UJIMA programme where student ambassadors are used to improve opportunities for young black males through mentoring. I’m delighted to see that you understand the need to start early and target the right groups.
“Our increasing focus is on the whole student life cycle. It’s not just about getting in but getting on. Students from low participation groups are less likely to stay in university, less likely to get a first class degree and less likely to get a good job so we need to improve retention, attainment and employability.
“The life-cycle approach starts in primary schools with aspiration-building and with parents and teachers not telling pupils that university isn’t for them. Then when they enter higher education it’s about pastoral support, mentoring, buddy schemes and childcare. Finally social networks can be found through alumni groups for those that don’t have them, helping them transition into further study and employment.”
“We have many challenges and opportunities ahead of us over the next five years, including the removal of student number controls, the Prime Minister’s target to double the number of students from under-represented backgrounds compared to 2010 and the new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).”
Following the keynote presentation, Professor Ieuan Ellis, Dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences and Pro Vice Chancellor, spoke about our strategic approach to Access Agreements so far. Services for Students, the Access & Outreach team and the Students’ Union presented a series of student case studies, asking ‘what actually works?’
Lunch was followed by five parallel sessions on financial support packages, improving black and minority ethnic (BME) student success, improving access and support for disabled students, using data analytics to support access and student success, and widening participation: targeting, impact and success. All sessions were delivered by University colleagues and the event closed with a plenary session from Professor Ieuan Ellis.
After the morning conference sessions, Professor Ellis interviewed Professor Ebdon, discussing the government's new targets for fair access and seeking his views on the opportunities and challenges for supporting more students from disadvantaged backgrounds to engage and succeed in Higher Education. You can read the interview here.