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Challenge: How do you make university an accessible place for all? If you want a different outcome, do things differently.

Challenge: How do you make university an accessible place for all? If you want a different outcome, do things differently.

What is university all about? 

What gets openly shared to students before they attend university isn’t readily available. This is particularly true for ethnic minority students whose access to, interactions with, and experiences at university are very different.  

Lancaster University is on a diversity journey, driven by the belief that everyone should have the opportunity to go if they wish. They are on a mission to understand the barriers to access ethnic minority groups face and the potential trigger points that stop them from moving onto Higher Education, in order to develop tailored pre-entry support.  

Their existing Role Model Ambassador (RMA) programme has already had great success amongst British South Asian students and their communities. Groundswell Innovation was tasked with reviewing and suggesting programme adjustments for use with Black British students. 

Who better to undertake market research than those with lived experience? 

Our input was twofold: blend our market research skills with that of student moderators with lived experience and use our findings to create an RMA Insight Report drawing out key insights from the research and recommendations for next steps.  

We kicked off with a training session for our group moderators who were all Black British students currently at Lancaster Uni where they: 

  • Uncovered different ways to encourage discussions and extract key information 
  • Role-played responses to different scenarios
  • Understood the basics of qualitative research, and how they could use these to develop more creative and practical exercises to get insight.  

The aim was to listen to and encourage a diverse range of opinions to get a sense of the shape and form of the problem – what is preventing Black British students from accessing and pursuing Higher Education? 

With their qualitative toolkit in hand and a Groundswell team member supporting, the student moderators held: 

  • 2 online groups with sixth-form students from Luton Sixth Form College 
  • 1 in-person student workshop at London Academy of Excellence 
  • 1 in-person student workshop at Leyton Sixth Form College 

By the end of the project, we delivered Lancaster Uni with our RMA Insight Report, a full transcript of a group discussion held with parents of Black British students, and a project report completed by two of their students involved in the research.  

Our report included recommendations for working with both students and their guardians to review barriers related to applying for and accessing university and the specific topics and formats that could be used to allay fears and answer that all-important question: what is university all about? 

Examples included using workshops, talks and social media to focus on tackling imposter syndrome, talking about student debt and investing in yourself, discussing what it’s like to be one of few black faces on campus and busting the myths around university life.  

The students used our insight to put forward a proposal as to how the university should design their RMA programme to encourage Black British students to consider going to any university after school.  

This was a really successful process and a great way to showcase how ‘doing things differently’ lands strong project outcomes. Lancaster Uni is now looking at how best to implement the student report findings.  

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