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No barriers, no boundaries

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell

Our University’s vision has long included a key commitment to widening participation in higher education, providing a distinctive and transformative experience to outstanding students regardless of their backgrounds.

This tradition can be traced back through our history. One of our predecessor institutions, Owens College, widened access by removing religious entry tests. Another – the Manchester Mechanics Institution – opened up education to the working classes.

Our commitment is as strong today as it was then. We are proud to lead the Russell Group in having the highest number of students from areas of low participation in higher education and lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Around 1,500 students from these backgrounds come to our University every year and around a third of our new UK undergraduates receive financial support through the means-tested Manchester Bursary. Removing barriers and boundaries remains at the heart of our teaching and learning strategy.

But the journey to university for these students starts many years before they even think about applying. Our widening participation strategy – the Extended Higher Education Progression Framework – starts with primary schools. The Children’s University of Manchester website attracts 1.5 million visitors annually, providing practical resources that allow primary schoolchildren to share in the excitement of knowledge created by the University.

As these young people approach university age, we provide them with the tools to prepare for their next steps. We work in collaboration with other universities and educational organisations to widen participation across the sector. These efforts include Greater Manchester Higher, a HEFCE-funded outreach network that last year engaged with more than 12,000 young people, and the Tutor Trust, an education charity providing subject tuition to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, where 80% of the tutors working in Greater Manchester are current students of ours.

Our Manchester Access Programme, meanwhile, provides sixth-formers from Greater Manchester with a two-year programme of preparation for university. The scheme has recently celebrated its tenth anniversary and has helped 1,800 students enter our University, with the support of scholarships funded by donors who share our commitment to widening participation. Attracting excellent students is a key University objective, and there is no significant difference in the entry qualifications, nor in degree attainment, between students from widening participation backgrounds and others.

Those who join us benefit from an inclusive approach to student support that aims to remove barriers to learning and ensure that they fulfil their potential. All new students can take advantage of support from their peers, for example through our PASS (peer-assisted study sessions) scheme. Our Careers Service provides mentoring programmes, paid internships and work-experience bursaries, each designed to help students from all backgrounds to secure a successful future.

Our work in widening participation has received national recognition. For example, colleagues in the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health received a Health Education England award for their research into student outcomes. University Library colleagues claimed the Blackboard 2017 Catalyst Award for Community Engagement for their innovative use of online learning to support students in developing their academic skills prior to entry. And our School Governor Initiative, through which 600 staff and alumni volunteer the equivalent of 51,492 hours a year, has earned the University honours, including the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

Such recognition reflects our successes, but we aim to exceed the standards we’ve set. The Higher Education and Research Act, which passed into UK law in April 2017, included proposals for UK institutions to continue improving outcomes and to promote equality of opportunity. Our long-standing commitment stands us in good stead for the increased emphasis on widening participation that the sector will experience.

Leading by example is one thing but we also want to be active in shaping best practice across our sector. We are currently involved in two HEFCE Catalyst projects: one focusing on the retention of black and minority ethnic students; another looking at the progression of students into postgraduate study.

In autumn 2018 we will launch the first Manchester IntoUniversity centre: a donor-funded, community-based project to support young people and their families in an area of inner-city Manchester. As the majority of our students from areas of low participation and under-represented backgrounds come from the north-west of England, with a high proportion from central Manchester, this project reflects our commitment to improve the lives and prospects of young people in the city of Manchester.

Through all of our efforts, we hope to further raise the aspirations and achievements of students and communities, locally and across the UK.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell President and Vice-Chancellor.

Professor Clive Agnew, Vice-President for Teaching, Learning and Students.

Read more about our widening participation work at