Edinburgh’s overseas alumni step up to host disadvantaged students

Graduates arranged workplace visits in major world cities as well as donations to cover travel costs, university alumni relations head tells conference

September 27, 2019
Source: istock

Universities should consider enlisting overseas alumni to help organise internationalisation schemes for disadvantaged students, delegates have heard.

This summer, 95 University of Edinburgh undergraduates from widening participation backgrounds travelled to some of the world’s biggest cities, including Hong Kong, New York and Singapore, where they spent a week visiting the workplaces of Edinburgh graduates.

“For some students, it was the first time they had left Scotland or travelled alone,” explained Rachelle Norry, the university’s head of alumni relations, at the European Association for International Education’s annual conference in Helsinki on 26 September.

Students travelled to meet mid-career alumni overseas in groups of six to eight, with the cost for each placement covered entirely by donations from other alumni who signed up to support the scheme, said Ms Norry, who leads the Insights project launched in 2017-18.

“In New York, we had students visiting the United Nations and the New York Stock Exchange,” she said, adding that the university left students to visit different workplaces unaccompanied by staff. “We did not want to hold their hands too tightly and just left them to get around New York on their own,” she added.

Feedback from the trips to eight global cities in June 2018 had been incredibly positive from everyone involved – students, alumni hosts and donors, continued Ms Norry. Almost three-quarters of alumni hosts said they intended to keep in touch with students after the trips because they were keen to support their careers, she said.

“Students are going away with a completely different career perspective, while one alumni host told us how ‘it was just an hour of my life, but it could have changed other people’s lives for ever’,” Ms Norry said.

Edinburgh recruited to the Insights programme using overseas-based alumni clubs, and it found significant buy-in from mid-career professionals, she said.

“Alumni were really fired up about this programme – universities should not be afraid to ask their alumni to get involved as they are really keen to give their time, advice and expertise to help students who need it the most,” Ms Norry said.

The project also sparked interest among potential donors eager to support a “student-focused” scheme that might transform lives, she added. “Alumni were so excited by this scheme – they want to do more and give more,” Ms Norry added.

Insights was praised by the session’s chair, Serge Sych of Hungary’s Central European University, who said the programme managed a “magical combination” of encouraging engagement with younger alumni and financial support from older alumni, as well as providing international opportunities for those from disadvantaged groups.


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