Thursday, 19 July 2012

Outreach, simply reaching-out? (Part 2)

Welcome back!

 Following on from my last blog post on Outreach at the University of Chester
 it struck me that it is okay me telling you about all the great and the good in which Outreach has been setup to deliver, but what does this mean to the students we work with? The school pupil or college student, what is the real difference for them?

Our team are geared up to change perceptions, raise aspirations and ultimately change lifes. Sounds a little dramatic, maybe even slightly hollywood, but really it is true. Hey, don't take my word for it, ask joe! 

But who is Joe I hear you say (and how can I read you mind)? 

Well more on my telepathy skills in a latter blog, but firstly to Joe...

To explain Outreach, let’s meet Joe

Say hello to 'Joe'
Joe is in Year 6 at a primary school, within a 'low socio-economic area'. This is an area classification of an area, which looks at an individuals economic and social position in relation to others, using income, education, and occupation as a means of measurement. His parent’s never went to university, and he is the oldest of his siblings. He achieves very good grades, and hopes to become an astronaut when he’s older.

Now Joe, would be classed as coming from a ‘widening participation’ background (WP for short). There may be barriers to him progressing through the education process to higher education, such as his parents being concerned about ‘debt’, or even a perception that university is only for 'posh' people. Sadly, this is still a perception that some people have about University, as well as further education in general.

What does this activity look like?

What universities are being asked to do, which previously was the responsibility of organisations such as Aimhigher, is to work with students like Joe, to make sure we breakdown some of these barriers.
It's obviously easier said than done, but it often includes:
  • Getting students to have an awareness of what university is
  • Providing them with an understanding of the different types of institution there are
  • Taking students on visits to University campuses
  • Getting current students to go out and talk to them about their experiences
Primarily, it is for them to see that the world is open to them as much as possible. From personal experience, some of the events we have run for primary school kids have been the most enjoyable days at work I’ve ever had. Their ability to continually question their surroundings, as well as an insatiable appetite for knowledge, is something I’m sure we wish we all still had!

WP Activiy (Purple) hand-in-hand with SCL Activity (Turquise)

Back to Joe…

As he progresses to his local secondary school, he begins to go on more trips to different Universities, where he’ll have taster lectures in subjects he may never have studied before. He may even have people from universities coming to speak to his class about making his choices at GCSE, as well as at A-Level.

Throughout this, Joe is developing his understanding that there is more than just one University, there are a number all specialising in different subject areas. His school is also mindful how parents perceptions of university, and therefore a number of weekend visits are arranged for parents to see what the opportunities are at these institutions.

When Joe gets to Year 11, he still wants to be an astronaut, so begins to ask the people at school what A-Levels he should choose. They recommend a variety of options and one of their local university’s actually offer a degree in Astrophysics, so the teacher liaises with them in regards to their entry requirements when it comes to A-Levels, and what specific subjects they require. During this year the school has also invited a number of local universities to attend their parents evening, including a talk on student finance which enables students, and their parents, to get a much better understanding of it’s all repaid, and what support is on offer.
Joe progresses through to his local Sixth Form College and begins to achieve successful grades in all of his subjects. Throughout Year 12 there are activities being arranged with universities and Joe attends a local UCAS fair at the end of the year. Here he finds out there are a range of different universities offering Astrophysics. He puts his name down to be sent a prospectus, and his soon invited to attend a range of Open Days, where he finds his perfect University, where he then applies through the UCAS process, and gets his place.

Meet 'Joe Bloggs'

Now, Joe is obviously a figment of my imagination, but he perfectly sums up the balance of widening participation and recruitment.
In Joe’s particular case, widening participation allowed him to make the decision of what he wanted to achieve. Once he progressed to sixth form, and attended HE fairs, he became part of the recruitment cycle (feel free to read Adams blog for a better explanation of this).
Throughout his younger years, the activity Joe was engaged with was focussed on breaking down barriers, in particularly concerns over finance, decisions at 16, and of course his parents views.

There are infinite amount of variables which will impact on this entire process (Has Joe got good enough grades? Does he need a degree to achieve his potential?) but hopefully Joe’s journey will shed a little light on what one student’s journey could look like, and where we fit into it.

And finally...

Personally, I like to see widening participation, as well as outreach, as the first leg in a very long relay race. We may make initial contact with many students at different ages, but at certain points, they become a possible applicant to HE, and hopefully, we get a student who decides University is the route for them (this is where Marketing takeover). In a lot of cases, the activity undertaken through our WP work has led to students applying to our university. Alternatively, there may also be students who make the decision that University isn’t for them, but as long as it’s an informed decision, without any misunderstanding on fees or costs, (or ‘posh-ness’), then that will always be part of ensuring that every individual can see it as a possible option.

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