Funding provided by Uni Connect (overseen by the Office for Students) has enabled local learners to progress to Higher Education through a variety of targeted outreach opportunities.
A wide range of inspirational and engaging activities have been delivered by the Kent and Medway Progression Federation (which brings together local Higher Education, Further Education and community-based partners) via a targeted project led by the University of Kent.
Two local students (whose names we have removed for reasons of anonymity), have been sharing their stories of the personal impact that taking part in outreach activities has made upon their journeys into Higher Education. Student 1 and Student 2 had both previously begun studying for A-level and BTEC qualifications through their schools (and subsequently through a Further Education College) but due to difficult family circumstances and an undiagnosed learning difficulty, neither were able to complete the courses, and were left feeling that study at this level (and above) would be unachievable for them. Both students had the desire to progress to university, but lacking confidence in their academic abilities, they were unsure of the next steps to take. In 2018 they learnt about the University Entrance Diploma (UEd), which is a full-time course designed for students who enjoy learning but want an alternative to traditional A-level or BTEC courses. Delivered at the University of Kent's Medway campus, this innovative new course qualifies successful students for entry to higher education and offers the opportunity to explore a range of subjects in a supportive and encouraging environment.
Student 1 successfully completed the UEd in one year, gaining distinction level in many units. They improved their wider academic skills as well as gaining subject knowledge – something which has enabled them to make the transition into degree-level study very successfully. They subsequently returned to the university to speak to current students and parents about how much the experience helped them.
Student 2 went through many changes of heart regarding degree choice and was supported to investigate and explore different options open to them. They successfully gained a place on their chosen course and were reported to be doing well and using the wider academic skills developed as part of the programme.
Another of their peers, who, as a result of the programme, gained a place to study Law, commented: ‘University is a place in which you get to meet interesting people who are at different life-stages and from various different backgrounds. It has been fun and also challenging, and I’m pleased to say I am on top of my deadlines thanks to the skills I learned on the University Entrance Diploma.’
OfS funding has also allowed KMPF to fund members of staff in local FE colleges. Locating staff in colleges has enabled them to put in place institutional plans containing sustained and progressive outreach activities that students would have been otherwise unable to access. Staff can get to know student groups, the challenges and barriers that they face and put in place activities and resources to support a change in mindset and a realisation of what is possible.
A very wide variety of activities have been engaged in, from a six-week self-awareness raising and confidence building programme called “Future You” - which has been presented at national events - to individual mentoring, careers support and a whole range of aspiration raising activities. This work with FE in the region has been truly innovative and OfS funding has provided a level of targeted opportunity and support that has not previously been available.
One example is the programme of activities that a Level 3 Health & Social Care student at a local college in Kent was able to access in the 2018/19 academic year to develop their interest in HE before consequently receiving support during selection, application and transition:
• Caring for Your Future Conference
• University of Brighton visit
• Trip to Body Worlds exhibition in London
• UCAS exhibition trip
• Inspirational talk by a care leaver (Adele Tilley-Jones)
• Escape Room activities
Felicity Dunworth, Director of KMPF, said:
“Uni Connect has allowed us to develop innovative approaches to engage talented young people who have previously been harder to reach. We are excited to be able to continue this work through the programme.”