University of Exeter: University of Exeter recognised by prestigious award scheme for work to boost social mobility

Work by staff and students at the University of Exeter to narrow gaps in access to higher education has been recognised by a prestigious national awards scheme.

Exeter is a finalist in the University of the Year category in the sixth annual UK Social Mobility Awards, which are organised by societal change charity, Making The Leap.

Every year University of Exeter staff and students work with thousands of children and with schools, partners, parents and carers around the country to address barriers to progression to university.

Nicola Sinclair, University of Exeter Head of Widening Participation and UK Student Recruitment and
Director (Practice) of the Centre for Social Mobility, said: “Our priority is to support equality of opportunity through higher education. We have ambitious targets and are working hard to improve access for under-represented students and to make sure they are able to realise their potential once at university. We have achieved significant improvements in widening access and supporting students to succeed and are delighted that some of this work has been recognised by being made a finalist in the UK Social Mobility Awards.”

The University of Exeter was shortlisted for University of the Year thanks to initiatives such as Exeter Scholars, a free progression programme for pupils traditionally under-represented in higher education. There are a thousand places annually for students where they get support to address a variety of barriers to entry to university.

Pupils join the programme in Year 10 or Year 12 and learn about university life, explore academic study in their chosen subject and develop transferable skills to help their school studies. There are face-to-face events, such as summer schools, as well as continued support and online activities. Students who progress to undergraduate study at Exeter are also able to access a range of financial, practical and academic support to help them succeed once at university. During the 2021/22 academic year 430 Exeter Scholars achieved university places with 191 progressing to undergraduate study at Exeter. Of these 54 per cent achieved AAA or higher

During the pandemic the programme moved entirely online with innovations including a virtual summer school. the Exeter Scholars team worked closely with academics to create lesson plans, course materials, self-directed modules and interactive experiences. Subject strands were varied, covering topics as diverse as civil rights, materials engineering and climate change. Interactive sessions included group work with tasks such as creating a virtual business and making a related pitch for investment. A range of digital tools were employed to create fun icebreakers, quizzes, scavenger hunts, party games and virtual escape rooms.

Pupils took part in daily group project sessions led by current University of Exeter students, attended live academic led lectures and Q&As, and worked through self-directed learning modules created by academics, postgraduate students and widening participation practitioners in addition to fun virtual social activities.

There have been three “virtual” Exeter Scholars summer schools since Sept 21, with 589 students taking part. In 2022, students were welcomed back on campus at face to face summer schools with the successful virtual programme also running to enable as many pupils to benefit as possible.

UK Social Mobility Award winners are chosen by an independent judging panel, made up of leading figures from business, charity, and the public sector. The judging panel is chaired by the HM Lord Lieutenant of London, Sir Kenneth Olisa OBE. Winners will be announced at an in-person awards gala at on Thursday 13th October 2022.

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