Widening Participation activities: why get involved?
Widening participation (WP) is part of the University of Manchester’s social responsibility strategy (Widening participation | The University of Manchester). At the Manchester Centre for Health Psychology we run events that aim to inspire young people to consider University as an option. These programmes aim to make Higher Education more accessible for primary and secondary school pupils through on-campus opportunities to hear about life at University from staff and students. Activities like this take a lot of time to plan, run and evaluate but are rewarding. Below are some short statements from staff and students from MCHP who have recently taken part in WP activities.
Debbie Smith, Senior Lecturer in Health Psychology
My reasons for taking part in WP events are pretty selfish, they make me feel good as I love the young people’s questions and excitement at these events! I remember being sat down at College and being given the UCAS talk. I was the first person from my family to go to University, so UCAS was not something I was familiar with, and I remember how daunting the process felt. University was not something I thought too much about before that time. Looking back, I am so pleased that my College had that talk with me as I enjoyed University and now love working at a University.
I help to run WP activities as it is important that young people are shown all possible paths available to them at an early age. The University of Manchester is such a huge place and the young people have often seen the buildings, so it is lovely when we get them on campus and show them what really happens and who we are. These events really are the highlight of my year.
Alicja Blaszkiewicz, BSc Psychology placement student
Being able to imagine yourself in an academic environment can be hugely motivating, especially if you’ve not realised that Higher Education could be an option for you. Personally, I would not have the idea to leave my small town in Poland and move out to study in the UK, if I hadn’t seen one of my friends pave the way a few years before.
By sharing some of my experiences with younger students, I hope to show them that it is not as intimidating as it could seem and that there’s no one template for what your university experience should be like. There’s room for us to shape it in a way that best benefits us as individuals, fits around our other priorities and commitments. I think this flexibility is what makes university different to the primary and secondary education they are used to.
Lucy Hulme, Graduate Teaching Assistant and PhD student in the School of Health Sciences
I love assisting in the planning and delivery of WP events. As a TA, I teach classes with dwindling numbers of undergraduates as the semester progresses which is not the most motivating or personally rewarding. In comparison, when young people come to our university to learn about something new, they are full of excitement and enthusiasm. This restores my internal energy and love for teaching as their engagement and their experience of learning is not limited by assessment deadlines, grades, and all the other things undergraduates understandably have on their plate. Instead, there is a real feeling of learning for learning’s sake and that feeling is why I wanted to attend university in the first place.
When I was the age of these young people, I was lucky enough to be inspired by a range of educational role models and knew I wanted to take the university path. However, due to my shaky academic performance, unsupported academic difficulties, and lack of confidence in myself, I always believed university would only accept “the smart ones”. When I meet young people at these WP events, I try to demystify the assumed intellectual elitism as much as possible to show that you don’t need to be in the top 1% to be accepted and then to thrive at university. As long as going to university is what you want, the experience is what you make of it, and I find it very rewarding to be a part of this realisation for numerous young people in Manchester.
Jack Hamer, Graduate Teaching Assistant and PhD student in the School of Health Sciences
I got involved in WP because until I attended university, I didn’t appreciate what university was. This resulted from me being a first-generation university student and not having many educational role models. I come from a working-class background and didn’t appreciate the importance of education until I faced educational adversity at college. Within this experience, I wondered what the next steps were and whether education was for me. As a result of having no educational role models, I was unaware of the opportunities presented by further education. Had I received intervention earlier, my understanding of the benefits of education would have made my academic journey clearer and would have made my assimilation to university easier.
I believe that WP activities provide a good bridge for students who don’t necessarily understand educational processes. Through bringing awareness to what universities do and the structures in place, I believe that WP provides some clarity and guidance to students who are struggling with seeing their future and don’t consider university as an option. That is why I engage in WP activities, if even one student can receive guidance and their journey can be made easier, then it is worth it!
If you are interested in taking part in any existing WP activities or have ideas for future event, please contact Debbie Smith (Debbie.firstname.lastname@example.org).