Transforming Lives

27 February 2021

Transforming Lives : The impact of widening access on young people in Northern Ireland report front cover

A Virtual Event was held on Friday 26th February for final year BEd and PGCE student teachers at St Mary’s to highlight collaboration between Queen’s University, Ulster University, Stranmillis University College, and St Mary’s University College in promoting Widening Access and Equality of Opportunity in Northern Ireland. The Event was titled: Transforming Lives: The impact of widening access on young people in Northern Ireland. Its aim was to inspire students to become champions of Widening Access within schools.

The event was presented in two parts. The first was a video which was released to the students before an MS Teams event which featured the Vice-Chancellor and Principals of the four highlighting the importance of Widening Access and showcasing the outreach programmes that are currently in place. The second part was the Live Event with a panel made up of Widening Access and Participation related representatives from the four higher education institutions (HEIs). Students were able to put questions to the panel and find out more about the outreach programmes that can help young people overcome barriers to education and to help them to succeed at university.

The panel members were Lorraine Lavery-Bowen (Ulster), Patricia Hampson (QUB), Celia O’Hagan (Stranmillis), and Deirdre Cree (St Mary’s) and the panel discussion was chaired by the Principal of St Mary’s University College, Professor Peter Finn KSG.

Students asked about the main barriers facing some pupils in accessing Higher Education and were interested to hear about pre-entry guidance as well as financial, academic and pastoral support offered to students once in university. Issues such as Technology Poverty, support for mature students, and support for students who have a disability were also discussed. Students also asked about the practical things that they can do (once they are qualified teachers) to help pupils facing some of these barriers and to inspire them to achieve their dream of a higher education.

The event highlighted the importance attached to teachers being knowledgeable about Widening Access initiatives offered by the four HEIs and to be mindful of their role in encouraging young people who are most able but least likely to consider higher education. Teachers who inspire, raise confidence and aspirations and have belief in their students are critical to the successful outcomes of young people and future society.

It is hoped that this new collaboration in Initial Teacher Education will enable and facilitate a generation of teachers who will explicitly champion Widening Access and Participation in Higher Education. Professor Finn invited students attending the event “…to embrace a vocational commitment to widening access – one which will enable more and more young people and adults from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain places at our universities and colleges.”

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