Widening Access at #Birkbeck How and Why?

Traditionally, mature students are less well served by universities; they frequently do not receive the information and advice that they need to make an informed choice about entering higher education.

Birkbeck, University of London
Copyright of Birkbeck, University of London

You’ve probably noticed that Birkbeck’s a little bit different. Our students don’t always come to us the traditional ways via school, then college, then university they get here in different ways and at different stages in their lives.

I’m currently interning for Birkbeck’s Widening Access and Student Engagement team. Our primary goal is to increase the number of students at Birkbeck from underrepresented or non-traditional backgrounds, by which we mean people who would not normally consider attending university, for any number of reasons.

We work closely with union learning representatives across London, providing lunch time talks, information stands, and subject-specific taster sessions. Trade union members are entitled to a 10% discount on course fees across all levels.

We also run a free series of events called Get Started. These workshops are designed to help prospective applicants with making an application, better understand fees and finance, and figure out what higher education really is all about.

You may have already encountered our Pop-Up University in Enfield earlier this year. Every Spring, Birkbeck’s outreach team takes over an empty shop for three months, offering a series of lectures, workshops, debates, and film screenings. These are open to all and are free to attend.

We also work extensively with 6th form and HE colleges to encourage young people to take their first steps into higher education. Our Institutional Partnership Agreement means that if you are studying a level three course at one of our partner institutions, you are automatically guaranteed an offer for any undergraduate course at Birkbeck.

I studied at Birkbeck myself, although I wasn’t particularly typical of the student body. I came to Birkbeck, fresh out of undergraduate education, with a large student loan looming over my head. I needed to be able to work at the same time as studying and the evening class format suited me perfectly.

Studying at Birkbeck gave me the skills contacts, and confidence to pursue the career I wanted, rather than rushing into the first job I was offered. For many, this is a rare luxury; it’s often impossible for working class students.

Everyone deserves the chance to expand their knowledge, to increase their employability, and to have the same opportunities afforded to their peers who already have degrees. Furthermore, education breaks down borders. It fosters understanding, which in turn leads to tolerance and compassion.

Equality does not mean treating everyone the same; they aren’t all exactly the same. It’s not about giving every player the same handicap; it’s about adjusting that handicap to fit their own, unique abilities, the way a handicap is supposed to work.

Written By Naomi Ruth Smith, M.A Journalism Student at Birkbeck, University of London.  Follow Naomi on Twitter 

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