Access to higher education should be afforded to anyone who wishes to pursue it. It is disheartening to see the latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showing a decline in the number of students from poorer backgrounds enrolling at some of the UK’s top institutions (“Elite universities ‘going backwards’ on widening access”, News, 18 February).
The UK has among the lowest upward social mobility figures in the developed world, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. This needs to change. University education has long been recognised as a vehicle for upward social mobility. It is the experience that a student gains during their journey through higher education that will improve their future prospects.
Recent evidence shows that university students who take part in international experiences, such as study and work placements abroad, see a direct and positive impact on their career. A report launched by the UK Higher Education International Unit revealed that graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds who took part in international programmes earned more in 11 out of 17 subject areas.
At Bath Spa University, we offer a certificate in global citizenship programme. In addition to a lecture and seminar programme with internationally renowned speakers, home and EU students undertake an international placement. There is also eligibility for a global citizenship scholarship of £1,000 to help to fund the international placement. Recent figures indicate that more than 70 per cent of home students enrolled on this programme have at least one widening participation marker, with more than 30 per cent coming from disadvantaged backgrounds and 46 per cent from non-professional backgrounds.
By providing opportunities for students to engage in international mobility programmes such as this, it is hoped that we can provide real opportunities for upward social mobility for our most disadvantaged students. Equal opportunity demands that we break the relentless social stratification of our society. Disadvantaged background should not be destiny.
Vice-chancellor, Bath Spa University