A TWO-YEAR project across five Universities led by Leeds to help widen participation in postgraduate taught students is nearing completion. Project leader Jennifer Coates introduces a video outlining the Office for Students-funded project and writes here about how it produced some interesting findings.
Widening Participation for students entering higher education has received significant attention both at Leeds and across the sector.
With our flagship Access to Leeds scheme and on course Plus Programme, we are experienced in supporting the transition, retention and attainment for students from non-traditional backgrounds.
Postgraduate study, however, has received less attention, with a pre-conception that students from WP backgrounds are on a level playing field after undertaking an undergraduate course.
The OfS project we have just led on challenges to this pre-conception.
Building on Professor Paul Wakeling’s research in this field, the project has targeted students previously identified as having lower levels of progression to Postgraduate study, specifically those from Low Participation Neighbourhoods and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students.
The project, delivered in partnership with the Universities of Manchester, Sheffield, Warwick and York, involved the design and evaluation of interventions which aimed to support students to make an informed decision about postgraduate study.
Project findings are already helping to inform the continuation and scale up of activities at Leeds and more widely.
Two strands of activity were developed and evaluated.
The first offered on course support to current undergraduate students at Leeds and comprised of events, mentoring and a series of informative e-bulletins.
The second offered access to a pre-arrival, transitional online course for incoming Masters students.
Activities were evaluated using Randomised Control Trials, a robust approach to testing impact in widening participation.
The project has generated interesting findings related to this approach, which will help to inform future evaluation activity at a sector-wide level.
Further study still needs to be demystified for students, with a focus on what further study is, how it can be beneficial and how students can be supported to progress onto a higher level of study.
Specifically, students need more information on the finance and funding options available to them, with consideration given to how far the postgraduate loan will go and the availability of alternative funding options, whilst also looking at the expectations at postgraduate level and how this will impact on time management.
There has long been engagement from undergraduate students to support widening participation initiatives.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the duration of their studies, the project found that postgraduate students are also ready and willing to engage.
Involving themselves as mentors, event speakers, course ambassadors and sharing their experiences through case studies, significant numbers of postgrads supported the project, quoting a lack of support with their own decision-making process and a desire to give back and support WP students as primary reasons for doing so.
Representation remains highly relevant when considering widening participation at postgraduate level.
A perceived lack of diversity in the postgraduate student cohort and within academia can be a barrier to further study for students from non-traditional backgrounds.
Offering access to diverse role models, both within the student, alumni and academic community, can open up postgraduate study as a more accessible option.
The pre-arrival course was well received in its pilot year, with almost universally positive feedback about the course from participants, and high levels of engagement.
It will continue to be delivered and evaluated at both Leeds and Manchester this year.
Consideration is now being given to how to take forward wider project findings, both at Leeds and more broadly across the sector.
Supporting student progression to, as well as attainment at, postgraduate level, will remain a key focus for the university.