mapOften, one of the greatest issues involving access to higher education is the fact that potential students don’t see themselves as the type of persons who would follow HE, or the type of persons that would follow careers which would follow on from Higher Education.

What Works

The overall solution to the issue, is to work with communities to directly engage potential students, and persuade them that a life-plan involving Higher Education is feasible and realistic.

The IDEAS project has collected several examples of interventions by NGOs and by universities themselves which work towards changing these pre-conceptions and actually letting students believe that their life-map can realistically be enhanced through a higher education experience. Examples of successful interventions in this vein include the:

Building Confidence

In a large instance of cases, students will not have parents who have attended university education, meaning that the option seems completely out of their league. Building confidence therefore involves two steps:

  • changing the overall aspirations of the students, by showing them the full spectrum of career options they have available to them.
  • showing them what university is like, by giving them simulations of university life.

Examples from Practice

  • All the cases referenced above organize university-style workshops and tutorials for students, as well as university-visits so as to make university seem less alien to them, while also better preparing them for the experience
  • Having concluded that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly unlikely to enrol in science-related subjects, the Science Academy in France organises science fairs and a host of linked activities specifically to raise the interest of this target group in sciences, and encourage them to take up science-related subjects at secondary and tertiary level.
  • The I Belong Programme puts a particular emphasis on exploring the range of industries operating in the city, and exploring possible careers students might pursue, and then helps them in choosing appropriate academic pathways to pursue such careers.

Creating Role Models

Role models do not need to be celebrities, or powerful persons. They just need to be people who have been through the university experience, who have benefited from it, and who can empathise (ideally from experience) with the challenges being faced by the prospective students targeted.

Examples from Practice

  • The ‘I Belong‘ programme includes ‘campus experience’ activities for potential students, which are led by ‘SNAP Ambassadors’, i.e. tertiary students who were admitted through its priority access scheme for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • The Brilliant Club places exclusively PhD students and post-doctoral researchers directly in schools, to ensure their initiatives’ staff can speak and teach directly from experience

Individual Support

Confidence cannot be built at an arm’s length, or through a mass-media campaign – all the interventions considered involve individual coaching, small-group tutorials, and usually, extended periods of interaction with the potential students.

Examples from Practice

  • The Brilliant Club includes a maximum of 6 students in each of its tutorials, while also providing individual support
  • Mentors of Rotterdam  pairs high-school pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds with student mentors from university. The student mentors give approximately 20 hours of one-on-one mentoring. They focus their mentoring on three roles: tutor (academic results), coach (self efficacy and self confidence) and talent development and career counselling

Reaching Out

Since these individuals never consider that they might be university-worthy, it is useless to set up a service and ‘let them come’. In each case, the organizations behind the initiative need to detect the groups who are likely to fall between the cracks, and reach out to them at school, in community centres or anywhere else they congregate with programmes and support.

Examples from Practice

  • The Brilliant Club places its staff directly in schools, which must meet specific disadvantage criteria. Within these schools, students with potential to access but vulnerable to exclusion from selective research universities are actively sought out and invited to join the programme.
  • The University of Liverpool runs its ‘Professor Fluffy‘ Programme directly in 60 schools across the Greater Merseyside Area. In each school, teachers use a resource pack created by the university to introduce students to university-life.

More Examples of What Works