The cost of inequality in the UK alone is estimated at 39 billion pounds annually. Pradeep Passi, director of equality, diversity, and inclusion at the UK’s University of Central Lancashire, believes that helping people to achieve academic qualifications will change that number.
“I see the role of higher education as ensuring those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have the same chance of achieving as everyone else,” Passi said during a virtual presentation that was part of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business Global Diversity and Inclusion Conference. The three-day conference concluded December 17.
“Otherwise, we’ll end up replicating inequalities in society.”
INCREASING BOTH OPPORTUNITY AND SUCCESS
The discussion, titled “Widening Access and Student Success for Students from Lower Socio-Economic Backgrounds,” featured Passi and Elizabeth Granger, UCL’s head of widening participation and public engagement, who shared institutional approaches to increasing equal opportunity and narrowing gaps in student success between those from higher and lower socioeconomic backgrounds. To do so, UCL works with students as young as seven and as old as 18 years old to help increase participation in post-secondary education.
UCL’s history dates back to 1828, when it was then known as the institution for the diffusion of knowledge. “Dating back to the origins of this school, it’s always been about opening up higher education to students from more disadvantaged and non-traditional backgrounds,” says Passi.
The eighth largest university in the UK with around 35,000 students – 3,000 of whom are international students – UCL has over 220 affiliations around the world. Its main campus is based in Preston, England, but there are two additional campuses: one in Burnley in the northern part of the country, and a European campus in Cyprus. Not only is the university focused on bringing in students from disadvantaged backgrounds, they’re also committed to making sure that students are supported once they’re there. “It’s not just about getting people through the door, but having a real mission around making sure that those students are adequately supported and given the right kind of framework within which they can have the best opportunity to succeed,” Passi continues.
“Just because students get into university doesn’t mean they’ll be successful,” adds Geoff Perry, AACSB global head. “It’s important that institutions understand the journey of the student and consider their external and internal influences.”
CREATING AN ENVIRONMENT OF BELONGING
Passi’s research shows that 40% of Britons believe it’s becoming more difficult for people from less advantaged backgrounds to move up in society. Plus, younger generations are less likely to see themselves as better off than their parents. “We think this is something we need to address as a fundamental part of our DNA,” he says.
By working with communities, schools, and colleges throughout the country to raise aspirations and widen university participation, the goal is to create an environment of belonging. The school does so by taking a data-informed approach to student outreach. The school works with students from as young as seven years old all the way to 18 by hosting a number of activities, and it focuses on the intersectionality of low socioeconomic status.
Some of these activities include visits to campus, interactive workshops that show different career pathways, access to a careers program, and even an on-campus festival that welcomes 12,000 visitors across three days – which has proven to show the best results. “Our evaluation shows that inviting parents from low socioeconomic backgrounds onto the campus for an event that is not focused on selling the university has positive effects. It’s all about making the campus more accessible and demystifying university,” she says.
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