Whist students from low participation neighbourhoods are going to university in greater numbers than ever before, progress has not been as significant as hoped after almost 20 years of widening participation policy.  This policy has typically been developed with input from a range of stakeholders – Government, universities and schools – but has rarely included the voice which matters most – the students themselves.

By involving student participants as active agents in research, Access Your Future aims to approach the widening participation problem from an alternative perspective.  Up to 48 Year 12 students in four schools across Sussex will take part in a series of workshops put together by renowned academics in the field of Education.  The workshops will teach appropriately pitched research skills – such as ethics, producing questions, interview skills, interpreting data – which students will then use to research attitudes and perspectives toward higher education in their communities and schools.

There are a number of benefits to students.  Participant researchers will:

  • Gain research skills which can be applied to their current studies.
  • Use their experience on UCAS applications to both demonstrate participation in extra-curricular activity and an understanding of academic research.
  • Prepare for university level study, so that important terminology, concepts and methods are introduced prior to starting their course, helping with confidence and fitting in.
  • Have a current PhD student as a research mentor, who will assist students in small group exercises and interpreting their data.
  • Be supported in shadowing a lecture at university.
  • Become an active creator of knowledge, and gain authority in an area which WP has comparatively little knowledge.

It is anticipated the project will generate valuable data which will help the sector understand how working class communities feel – both positively and negatively – about university.   This will allow the SLN:COP consortium to better understand commonalities and differences of its local young people and communities.  As a result, outreach initiatives and research projects can be made more engaging and relevant, and potentially include more input from students, families and communities.

A further dimension of Access Your Future is wider dissemination.  All students will be given the choice of submitting their findings to a final report and presenting their research to an audience of university staff and policy makers. This will give decision makers a valuable insight into the perspectives, views and opinion of people who are targeted and affected by WP policy.

The project is made up of five in-school sessions, covering a range of important research skills in an age appropriate way.  The sessions include discussions and exercises promoting agency, producing questions, understanding ethics, interpreting and analysing data, and finding a narrative voice.

For further information please email the project lead, Gino Graziano