WIDENING ACCESS INTERVENTIONS TO ENABLE ENGAGEMENT IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Ulster University (UNITED KINGDOM)
About this paper:
Conference name: 15th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 7-9 November, 2022
Location: Seville, Spain
Abstract:Ulster University has a high proportion of widening access students equating to 37.4% of undergraduates for 2021/2022. The onset of COVID19 in 2020 brought about many new challenges for Ulster University and indeed Higher Education (HE). Widening access and participation (WAP) financial support and interventions were needed more than ever as the pandemic was making it much harder for the most disadvantaged students to engage in HE.
During 2021/2022, Ulster supported widening access students using a combination of new and existing approaches, for example, Widening Access Bursaries, The Technology Fund, Scholarships and Retention and Success initiatives including Studiosity and Peer Mentoring. All interventions supported the University’s statutory annual Widening Access and Participation Plan (https://www.ulster.ac.uk/about/widening-access/plans).
A summary of some key interventions successfully delivered during 2021/2022 are as follows:
- Over £1.8 million in Access Bursaries, Care Leavers’ Bursaries and Accommodation Vouchers were distributed to eligible students.
- 40 new Community Scholarships funded by external donors helped students access HE. Further new Community and Care Experienced Scholarships will be made available from 2022/2023.
- When students were pivoted online due to COVID-19, many students found themselves in the situation where they did not have access to the technology they required to enable them to study online. In response the WAP department, in partnership with other key partners including, Alumni and Student Wellbeing colleagues set up a Technology Fund to provide laptops for widening access students who were unable to provide the technology themselves. Since 2020, over 1500 laptops have been provided to eligible students.
- The University works in partnership with Studiosity to offer student services (https://www.studiosity.com/). During 2020/21, a new Peer Mentoring Service for first year students was introduced as a pilot as students were not only having to adapt to the transition to HE but were transitioning having had their final year of schooling severely disrupted by COVID-19 (https://www.ulster.ac.uk/about/widening-access/initiatives/studiosity-student-connect). This new service was designed to provide an additional route for first year students to seek on demand online support from student mentors who had completed similar modules/courses. It complemented the Studiosity ‘Writing Feedback’ and Connect Live Service that were already available and the existing Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) peer mentoring scheme (https://www.ulster.ac.uk/about/widening-access/initiatives/pass) , all of which have been proved effective based on evaluation findings. Another key goal was to encourage more males to use the service as substantially less males make use of existing Studiosity services and to promote new Taking Boy Seriously principles (https://www.ulster.ac.uk/conference/taking-boys-seriously-2021) launched in 2021.
During this interactive oral session the presenters will share the results of key WAP interventions delivered during 2021/2022. They will also showcase interactive dashboards outputs which are helping Ulster better understand the profile of our students, provide evidence of the impact of WAP interventions, communicate opportunities, challenges, lessons learned, major evaluation findings, future plans and provide interactive opportunities for sharing of practice across delegates.
Keywords: Widening access, bursaries, scholarships, student retention and success, COVID-19, peer mentoring.