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Providing key opportunities for transformational change for widening access students

Brian Webb, Access Pathways Lead at RGU, writes about his role and the importance of widening access within higher education.

This week the University announced that it had signed the Stand-Alone Pledge which highlighted the commitment to supporting Estranged Students. This ongoing commitment along with the University’s commitment to reducing barriers to specific groups in society highlighted to me once again why I joined RGU.

Before joining RGU two-and-a-half years ago I have been involved in youth and community work for over 25 years working across Scotland managing and enabling teams to engage with street gangs, young offenders, youth unemployment and engaging groups of young people mainly in areas of deprivation. The common theme that has been present throughout my employment history is working towards eliminating the barriers that young people face within society and working towards transformational changes to allow them to have a successful and meaningful life.

This ethos and belief in wanting young people to succeed in life led me to apply for the post within RGU as the Access Pathways Lead. Before I joined RGU I could see that the university has a long-standing commitment to widening access, which is demonstrated through its pioneering work with the further education sector.

RGU is committed to widening participation to extend access to learning and enable talented individuals from under-represented groups, to achieve their ambitions through higher education, whatever their circumstances.

Year on year, the university has enhanced and refined its outreach activity to engage with MD20 students and annually recruits 200 such students.

During my time at RGU the university developed an approach called “Access Excellence” for Widening Access. This approach links directly with the University’s strategic goals and targets individuals who are underrepresented in Higher Education. The pillars of this approach include: building ambition by raising aspirations and developing ambitions, enabling access by mitigating barriers and creating student centred access pathways and supporting achievement by supporting the development of skill enriched graduates with the confidence and capacity to achieve their ambitions, whatever the circumstances.

Access Excellence is firmly rooted in delivering credible, high quality, interventions which work by inspiring, supporting and enabling people and their families, to be confident about, and to engage in, higher education.

Some of the key initiatives the University have been involved with include:

  • The Access To programme - This supports talented and committed S5 and S6 pupils who aim to study at degree level. The programme has been an incredibly successful with 1004 participants between 2016-2020
  • The ACES (Access to Creative Education in Scotland) programme supports pupils from MD20/40 backgrounds to enter high demand professional degree course in Art and Design and Architectures. From 2016-2019 the programme engaged with 138 applicants.
  • The Northern Lights programme –Northern Lights works with S1 and S2 pupils who have been referred by these schools and have the potential to achieve higher education entry but are at risk of not fulfilling. Over the 3 years of running the programme, 94 school pupils participated.
  • Accommodation -  As part of our continued commitment to widening access to Scottish students, The University over the last 2 years has provided an offer of free accommodation for the first year of study to SIMD20 applicants who stay out with Aberdeen. Whist the offer of free accommodation is for 37 weeks Care experience students are guaranteed 365 days of accommodation. This year we have seen the number almost double with 47 students taking the offer this academic year, comparatively to 25 in cycle 19/20,
  • Welcome Packs We distribute free ACCESS RGU Enrolment Support Packs at the start of the first term to eligible students. The pack comprises of financial goods to aid the learner in areas such as living costs, digital technology, and travel support, all provided with the aim of enabling a smooth transition to university. Since 2016, 468 packs have been taken by students.
  • Articulation: RGU recognises the road to Higher Education can often be more complex for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and nationwide, approximately 40% of the most deprived university students (identified by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) enrol having first studied at college. RGU works in partnership with six affiliate colleges to guarantee progression pathways for students, providing routes into degree courses from a relevant HNC/D.
  • Articulation: RGU has over 150 pathways, known as articulation routes, across all our academic schools, providing opportunities for learners to join the university and complete a degree without having traditional entry qualifications. Each year over 400 students join the university direct into Year 2 from an HNC, or Year 3 from an HND, earning a degree with no time loss, having first studied at college.

The above initiatives could not have been achieved without the support of all the staff members across the university. Staff have provided key opportunities for transformational change for widening access students and look forward to continuing to develop new and engaging life changing experiences.

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