From making education available to the city’s working population in the 19th century to the outreach programmes of today, Manchester has always been a university that has opened doors. Ilyas Nagdee is just one of thousands to have found a route to university thanks to Manchester’s support – and it’s a route that he’s helped many other find too.
Few can claim to know more about the University’s outreach work than Ilyas Nagdee. During his Middle Eastern Studies degree at Manchester, Ilyas clocked up thousands of hours as a volunteer and intern with the Widening Participation Team, ultimately receiving two Making a Difference Awards for ‘inspiring communities’ and his ‘outstanding contribution to widening participation’.
He also helped recruit three student intakes for the Manchester Access Programme (MAP) – which was his own path to the University.
Widening participation was central to my experience at the University; it meant more to me than my degree. Quite simply, it changed my life.
“I was born across the road at St Mary’s Hospital, and grew up about 15 minutes’ walk from the University,” reveals Ilyas. “But it seemed a world away. I got lost on my first day on MAP; I’d never been on campus before.
“MAP opened a door into a world that people like me hear about but never experience. It helps us become familiar with the environment, not alienated by it. And it’s a cycle: a lot of us go on to support MAP and other brilliant initiatives.”
After graduating in 2016, Ilyas worked as the University’s Students’ Union Diversity Officer for a year, and he is now Black Students’ Officer at the National Union of Students. He’s full of enthusiasm and ambition, and it’s hard to imagine him otherwise. But Ilyas experienced bouts of depression during his degree, and relied on the satisfaction and routine of his widening participation work to keep him going.
“Widening participation is not about simply getting students from under-represented backgrounds through the door,” says Professor Clive Agnew, the University’s Vice-President for Teaching, Learning and Students. “We want to improve access, but also provide appropriate student support.”
Manchester was the first UK university to provide peer support to every first-year undergraduate student; 2,125 students undertook peer support roles in 2016/17. The University also recently received a HEFCE Catalyst award to develop a dedicated support system for black and minority ethnic students.
Students who successfully complete MAP and begin studying at the University receive the Undergraduate Access Scholarship, which is completely funded by donors to the University. This provides financial support during their studies and allows students to make the most of their time at Manchester.
Careers support is also crucial. “Students from independent schools have higher employability outcomes, irrespective of degree,” reveals Professor Agnew.
“Their networking and confidence is established before they come to university. Our strategy for widening participation sets out a comprehensive access and participation plan that runs from primary school through to graduate careers. We want to raise aspirations and skills pre-university, offer appropriate support throughout university, and help students understand that networking and soft skills are just as important as degree outcome for employability.”
“Widening participation was central to my experience at the University; it meant more to me than my degree. Quite simply, it changed my life,” says Ilyas.
“University opens the door to so many different life experiences. Outreach work at Manchester is so important – and phenomenal. But we can always do better, right? Maybe I can,” he concludes, smiling.
Maybe he will.