University and employer partnerships in widening participation activities

Students choose to go to university for a variety of reasons: because they have a passion for their subject, to develop themselves and to be intellectually challenged, for all the opportunities that student life might involve such as studying abroad or to gain greater independence and of course to get a “good job” at the end of it.

It is perhaps this last reason which is least tangible for prospective students, what even is a “good job”? If you are reading this blog it is likely that you may be a widening participation practitioner, I hope you feel you have one of those so-called “good jobs” but how did you find yourself in this career? In spite of working in the sector for close to 10 years and speaking to thousands of prospective students I’m yet to meet a single one who says “I’d really like to be an Access & Widening Participation Officer, what degree should I do?”.

The lack of knowledge students possess about career options is not surprising, at 16 years old the choice in front of them is bewildering! This is the reason why linking outreach activities with employers can be powerful for students, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not have parental networks into the world of work of their more advantaged peers.

At Leeds Beckett University we are keen to partner with employers wherever possible. Recently the University worked with Premier Farnell allowing students to explore careers in digital and tech (an industry which is set to grow by 15% in this region over the next decade). As part of the challenge, students took part in workshops co-designed by both academic staff and industry professionals giving the students a real taste of the skills and attributes required to succeed in the industry.

In the programme, the informal interactions with professionals in the industry gave students a real insight into jobs that they might one day apply. The boost in the student’s awareness was obvious and reinforced by teacher feedback. The initiative was also an easy way to hit a number of Gatsby benchmarks in one activity making it particularly attractive activity for schools to participate in.

Of course, from the University’s perspective, the activity reinforced the value of University education as a doorway to “good jobs” and something that every student can aspire towards.


Jonathan Holland, Head of UK Student Recruitment and Outreach, Leeds Beckett University