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University outreach in disadvantaged communities

In a recent article for higher education policy blog Wonkhe, Jim Dickinson, the chief executive of Union of UEA Students and a senior director at the National Union of Students, wrote that universities can feel a million miles away from the disadvantaged communities on their doorsteps.

He argued – using UEA in Norwich and the UKIP/Leave-voting town of Great Yarmouth 20 miles away as an example – that universities should do more to be institutions for the communities in which they are situated. The article is  a call to arms to universities in general to combat xenophobia, and he says: “It’s not that identity politics has gone ‘too far’. It’s just that it’s not gone far enough”. His blog post is here.

But what do universities do to try to improve the prospects of those who live around them, and open up access to study for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and improve their career prospects? A huge amount, it turns out. University outreach teams around the country are available to help pupils see further and higher education as a realistic ambition, and can be contacted to give assistance and deliver events.

Here, UEA Outreach Officer Gemma Standen talks about the work she and her colleagues do, as a team and in partnership with local bodies.


Jim Dickinson’s blog Lessons learned from the A47 (and the university bubble) made for an interesting read. On one hand, Jim has a valid point about the university bubble: universities generally do attract more of the ‘ABC1’ students due to a variety of factors including parental, peer and school influences, and there are pockets of our region who see university as another world. UEA works hard to increase its regional impact and if we take Great Yarmouth as an example, we want to share information about what we are doing to break down those barriers about university.

“Outreach” is a range of activities that helps to raise awareness, aspirations and attainment among people from disadvantaged backgrounds. UEA has a proficient and proactive outreach team, responsible for managing relationships with schools across the region, as well as the delivery of projects/events such as Summer Schools, Move on Up, Year 10 Conference and mentoring to name a few. The team also creates bespoke activities, delivers talks and workshops to young people and their parents to help address concerns about finance, employability and independence.

UEA Outreach has spent a great deal of time working in Great Yarmouth, involving many schools and colleges in events hosted within the schools themselves as well as on campus. Through working in partnership, the outreach team has built strong relationships with teachers and careers staff within these schools, with UEA students delivering in-school careers and university-focused sessions as part of this collaboration.

Law student Pedro Dos Santos Marques spends much of his time in schools in and around Great Yarmouth, where he lives. He says: “Having been educated in Great Yarmouth for most of my life I have noted that young people in the area generally lack aspiration. UEA Outreach work is essential in ensuring these pupils are given enough information and resource to break down the misconceptions they might have about university life. Working for the Outreach department as a School Champion and Mentor for schools in Great Yarmouth enhanced my knowledge about the university’s engagement with the community. An important part of my role concerns the delivery of a variety of workshops with the purpose to get students thinking in advance (MyFutures, Revision Skills) and presentations about university life. Overall, it is fair to say that the department does a large amount of work that tends to go unnoticed and this is a shame as everyone always tries their hardest to reach our ultimate goals and somewhat engage with the local community.”

Furthermore, schools and colleges are being invited to work with UEA as part of the National Collaborative Outreach Project (NCOP). This project will place UEA Outreach directly in schools and colleges regionally, and will further focus on raising aspirations and supporting attainment with our partners. UEA also continues to train and support the next generation of teachers and school leaders, looking to continually reduce the gap in understanding as to what outreach means and who it applies to.

Assistant Head of Outreach Charlotte Wheatland says: “The NCOP project will allow the universities in the East Anglia region to work more intensively with students who do not traditionally progress into higher education, including those in Great Yarmouth. At UEA we are really excited to be able to strengthen our relationships with the schools and community in Great Yarmouth and support students to consider higher level study including university and degree apprenticeships.”

UEA has partnerships teams to support and oversee courses delivered by colleges and other FE institutions who do not have degree-awarding powers to run degree programs of their own. The colleges will design and deliver the programs and, upon successful completion of the course, participants will receive a degree awarded from UEA. This arrangement has been part of the University Campus Suffolk (UCS) network.  This network consisted of a main centre in Ipswich along with West Suffolk College, Great Yarmouth College, Lowestoft College and Suffolk New College, all of whom delivered courses which led to HE awards jointly awarded by UEA and University of Essex. UCS has now (with considerable support from Essex and UEA) achieved its own degree awarding powers and became the University of Suffolk from August 2016.

Since 2008, UEA and Essex University have awarded 678 HE qualifications to students who studied their programmes at Great Yarmouth College. UEA also received 197 applications from Great Yarmouth College and East Norfolk Sixth Form College last year alone.

In terms of employability, UEA’s Career Central team is working extensively to provide links for students and graduates to work regionally in a variety of sectors. Recent engagement includes work with Great Yarmouth Borough Council and the School of International Development who run annual student development projects in coordination with the borough council. UEA CareerCentral works with the Business Development Team at the borough council to support direct engagement with businesses and to more widely promote the work that we are doing.

Internships are being delivered by Norfolk County Council, Great Yarmouth Town Centre Partnership and various companies in the energy sector, including Gardline, Fugro and Seajacks. UEA graduate Laura Bell joined Norfolk County Council’s on an internship to work on a project called ‘Developing Norfolk’s Future Workforce’. Laura says: “an internship is a great opportunity to try out a new sector and broaden your experience,”

UEA CareerCentral works with Glenn Moore, the regional hub representative for Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft’s ‘New Anglia Growth Hub’ to provide business support and improve communication. Our work with the James Paget Hospital and other local health providers continues, as UEA trains a wide range of health sciences students in the NHS and beyond. Our large student community also undertakes a great deal of volunteer work which supports the area. Organisations include Anglia Care Trust, Big C, English Heritage, Leeway Domestic Violence, Ormiston Families, RSPB, Norfolk Youth Offending team and many more.

UEA has a number of students who choose to commute to campus, or stay in the local area following completion of studies. The figure for alumni currently residing in Great Yarmouth is 1,255 ranging from their 20s to their 70s; this number does not include those who live in Norwich and commute to Great Yarmouth for work.

With all the various work being undertaken by UEA regionally to promote fair access, education and employability as outlined, we hope that any ‘filter bubbles’ that do exist reduce in number and size.

Posted by Gemma Standen on Tue, 14 Feb 2017

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Gemma is a Film and Television Studies alumna of the University of East Anglia who now works as an Outreach Officer for the university. A big proportion of her time is spent liaising with Norfolk schools to increase the aspirations and attainment of young people, while informing them on the benefits of higher education. She joined the Recruitment and Outreach team in October 2016 and works particularly closely with schools to the west of the region. Gemma leads on strategy for secondary schools, summer schools and engaging Student Union societies in widening participation events.

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