At the University of Southampton, our Widening Participation and Social Mobility Team work to provide holistic support to students from underrepresented backgrounds to access, succeed at, and progress from the University.
One of our flagship pre-entry programmes, Access to Southampton (A2S), has supported Year 12 and 13 students for almost a decade to make informed choices about Higher Education. The programme helps participants to develop knowledge of what it's like to study at a research-led university and provides them with the skills they will need to be successful university students.
A2S is open nationally to students in Year 12, or the first year of their A Level/equivalent study, who meet at least 1 of the following widening participation criteria:
- In receipt of a 16-19 bursary or similar grant OR received Free School Meals at any point during their secondary school studies
- Been in local authority care or looked after for three months or more OR are estranged from their family
- Are a Young Carer
- Current home post code shows that they live in an area with low levels of progression to Higher Education. (Postcodes within the lowest 2 POLAR4 quintiles)
- Current home post code shows that they live in an area that falls within the lowest 20 percent of the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD).
With the emergence of COVID-19, we had to adapt the usual format of the programme to ensure that applicants could still access the support and benefits provided by the scheme. Whilst we really miss running our on-campus summer school, delivering content virtually has meant that participants have accessed material and sessions more flexibly around their timetables. This has also lead to more frequent interaction as students have not had to travel to campus for multiple events.
This year's programme will consist of a range of activities, events and resources including subject-related content, student experience videos and skills-based sessions. All of this will be available through the University's Virtual Learning Environment. Participants will take part in a programme of e-mentoring, as well as a monthly online Q&A series, connecting them with key topics and experts on their journey to university. We have some exciting new personal development additions to the programme this year. These include the option to take part in a speaking academy with an international speaking coach, and coaching sessions on 'building resilience' and 'discovering your leadership voice'. Students who complete the programme in full are eligible to receive additional admissions consideration when they apply to the university, a £1000 scholarship in their first year of study, and information about other opportunities throughout their degree.
Having been established for a number of years, we have gathered some great evidence of the impact A2S has on the success of students who come to Southampton through the programme. For example, over the last 5 years a higher percentage of A2S graduates have left Southampton with a first or 2:1 than other groups of students. We know from research (O'Keeffe 2013, Moran et. al 2017, Strayhorn 2019) that fostering a sense of belonging is integral to helping students feeling settled university. This is especially important to those from widening participation backgrounds. The interaction with current students and staff that the A2S programme provides can help develop this sense of belonging and help support their transition to university. As one of our former participants, and first-class MEng graduate Calvin said;
"The online mentoring was a chance for us A2S applicants to talk to a current student at the university and ask any questions about their experience, settling any concerns or worries. The A2S programme undoubtedly helped me with my transition to university".
More information about A2S is available on the University of Southampton website. Applications for the programme for 2022 entry to university close on 2nd July 2021.