Collaboration, role models, and student voice highlighted at Under-Represented Groups showcase
Collaboration, role models, and student voice were three of the main themes to come out of Go Higher Yorkshire’s (GHWY) Under-Represented Groups (URGs) showcase, which I recently attended at Leeds Beckett University.
The first point may have been expected, with collaboration being one of the founding principles of GHWY in general and the URGs in particular. Established in 2021-22 to work towards collaborative outputs and share best practice, among other things, they focus on outcomes for Black, Asian and Minoritised Ethnic Students; Males on Free School Meals; Care Experienced and Estranged Students; and Disabled Students.
As GHWY’s Partnership Assistant, I nonetheless found it reassuring to hear the importance of collaboration being repeated during the day’s presentations. Time and again I heard individuals exhorting the value of sharing best practice, of discussing common challenges, and working towards collaborative outcomes. These comments gave meaning to my own role and helped to justify the volume of emails I send out each day asking for information from members!
Another common refrain was people welcoming the value of simply networking with colleagues. The importance of being able to put a face to a name – or a 3D person to a 1D Teams box – should not be underestimated! This was perhaps felt all the more keenly because the showcase was the first time that group members had come together in-person. This indicated their enthusiasm for more networking opportunities and increased collaboration, be that inter-group or greater connectivity between GHWY and the work our Uni Connect project does with URGs.
One area where sharing best practice between groups could work is the use of positive role models. Even though the groups have worked in isolation up until this point, each presentation and discussion emphasised the importance of these in raising aspirations. The value of student ambassadors, especially, was emphasised, and the need for them to come from diverse backgrounds. These allow students to see that ‘people like me’ can succeed in HE.
This correlates with the third theme to emerge from the showcase: the need to include student voice. I’ve been involved in creating a bank of student stories on our website, drawn from across our 13 members, and I’m aware of the challenges in getting representation from diverse backgrounds. Estranged young people, in particular, have been hard to reach given the perceived stigma around self-identifying and the lack of common definition. The presentations nonetheless showed the value of persevering to get stories from these groups.
Yet student voice also means listening to and learning from the experiences of individuals. Simon Morris (University of Leeds) and Jo Mitchell (University of Huddersfield), co-chairs of the Disabled Students Group, put it well when they said that staff don’t need to be experts to offer support to students, they just need to be willing to learn. This includes being guided by student voices and needs when designing resources and activities, be that the care-experienced and estranged student e-learning CPD (an output for the relevant group) or the Disabled Learner Transition Pack (likewise).
It was clear from the presentations that the four groups are at very different stages of development, with some achieving outputs while others have yet to decide any. Irrespective of this, it was equally clear that members were united by their willingness to learn from one another, to take advantage of existing networks to collaborate, and most importantly to ensure every young person has equal life chances in respect of HE.
There may be a long way to go to achieve parity but the showcase was a welcome opportunity to take stock and – to quote a delegate’s feedback – gain “inspiration from other groups to guide future change.”
My colleagues in GHWY will now review the event feedback to see what suggestions can be taken forward. An overview of the groups’ work is planned at the Access & Participation Strategy Group and GHWY Board meetings in June. The groups will also continue to collaborate to improve the outcomes for learners from our target groups.
Susan Darlington, GHWY Partnership Assistant