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Matt, first generation HE student studying Law

Matt grew up in a farming community in rural mid Devon and is the first generation of his family to go on to higher education.

He completed his A levels at a local state school in Crediton and while there was accepted on the University of Exeter’s Pathways to Law scheme, “I can safely say that without this opportunity I would not be stood here today.”

Matt’s intention had been to always go to university as his dream job of a legal officer in the RAF required a law degree.

However, being a first generation student presented its own challenges for Matt who had to research what University was about, how they differ and why he should go.

“These are answers I really had to research myself, deciding what you want from your university is almost a rite of passage for any University student, thankfully, I found exactly what I was looking for on my doorstep,” he said.

Matt also had to deal with not just the practicalities of working through a personal statement and navigating UCAS but also the challenge that University may not be a level playing field for all students.

“When you get to University, even one like Exeter with nearly 80% of the Law school being from State School backgrounds, there is a feeling that some people, largely those from Public Schools, have been better prepared not just for the degree itself, but for the world of work beyond this,” he said.

To tackle this Matt and fellow student Maya suggested a group for widening participation students to meet and help each other with various things such as analysing texts for essays and revision. The group has worked together on a pilot scheme this year with intentions to continue on in Year 2.

“This is the point of the Breakfast Club, to help students from a widening participation background to feel that they fit in at University, because although there are barriers to entry to University, solving those on their own will never solve the issues of retention. If a student manages to get into a University, that does not necessarily mean that they will feel comfortable, or even that they are good enough to be there.

“The results have been incredible from the short amount of time that we have worked together, allowing each student to move up in regards to grades as well as in feeling that we are worthy enough to be here,” said Matt.

They are now hoping to expand the group with current students moving into year 2 acting as peer mentors for 1st year students in September.

Matt said: “There are numerous barriers to Higher Education, and these barriers can affect anyone. They can come before university and they can come when you set foot in your first lecture, or hand in your first assignment. It should be the aim of the University not just to get the students through the door, but to ensure they have the kind of experience that means they will stay throughout their degree.

“My experience at the University of Exeter has been extremely positive I have taken part in various societies and it is through these and my lecturers, who are incredibly active in making sure students get the most out of their university time, that I feel Exeter has a really nice homely feel as a university where they really want you to succeed.”