Dr Anna Mountford-Zimdars and Nicola Sinclair
Conference calls for social mobility champions across University
Over 100 academics, professional staff and students attended our inaugural Social Mobility Conference which was focussed on bringing people together to foster a whole institution approach to tackle the subject.
Pro-Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean Prof Debra Myhill introduced the June 12th event saying it was a privilege to launch the centre which, led by both academic and professional services, would provide a positive role model for collaboration at the University.
“For too long Widening Participation has been a nice to have for universities. There are barriers that go beyond attainment. Those who go to a private school have a 1/20 chance of going to an elite university compared to 1/1500 for those who come from a WP background.
“The University is engaged in a raft of outreach activities. Our work with the Ted Wragg Multi-Academy Trust has seen ISCA school become the highest achieving school in its sector in the country within three years,” she said.
Nicola Sinclair, Head of Widening Participation and Director (Practice) of the Centre for Social Mobility, said improving social mobility through higher education was not just about raising aspiration. It required joined-up sustainable approaches to support pupil attainment; prepare, encourage and facilitate entry into university; and to enable students to realise their academic and career potential.
The University’s commitment will see £14million being spent in 2020/21 on widening participation including outreach, financial support, welfare, academic skills and employability support.
“Widening Participation is not a marginal activity, is has to be central to what we do as an institution. We have to create a place where no one feels disadvantaged and everyone is able to thrive”.
Co-Director of the Centre (Academic) and Associate Professor in Higher Education Dr Anna Mountford-Zimdars said the centre provided a safe space to share ideas for improvement as well as apply for grants for research. “Help us join the dots and become a social mobility champion for your area,” she said.
Keynote speaker Dr Lee Elliot Major, Chief Executive of the Sutton Trust, spoke about the ‘enemies of social mobility’ and the barriers that get in the way of people progressing into higher education.
Delegates also heard first-hand about some of the challenges faced by those coming into HE.
Mature student Sophy Miles spoke about her experience as a fostered child trying to get into higher education and being the first child in care in Devon to go on to a degree course.
“Education was my escape and somewhere I could flourish. I was told children in care don’t go to University,” she said.
Now as a mother with a physical and learning disability, she is taking a second degree in Sports and Health Sciences after becoming medically retired from her previous career due to poor health.
Matt Cordwent, was the first generation of his farming family to go to University. He took part in the Pathways to Law scheme run by the Sutton Trust and University of Exeter and is now studying at the Law School
“Without that I would not have been able to get into University. I enjoyed it so much I stayed on as a student mentor,” Matt commented.
Law Lecturer Michael Channon told delegates he had lacked confidence when at school and felt passionately about helping pupils to raise their aspirations and fulfil their potential. His Twitter campaign #Mypathtolaw which has generated 15,000 tweets from law professionals to share their experiences in order to motivate students from less privileged backgrounds to study the subject.