Group of Ugandan children playing

Levelling the playing field for WP students and graduates

With thousands of new graduates entering the job market every year, it's fair to say that getting the first step on the ladder can be a challenge for even the most ambitious of students and a university degree doesn’t necessarily open all of the doors.

Increasingly, employers want to see strong evidence that their new recruits are not only bright and hard-working but that they have a tool box full of other outstanding skills, attributes and experiences to offer.

For many students from a widening participation background, just getting to university is a huge achievement, not just in terms of school and exam performance, but because of the multiple barriers they have had to overcome to make this step towards a brighter future. Many young people from widening participation backgrounds haven't had the start in life to fill their lives with meaningful work experience, travel and volunteering that employers seem to be searching for and this is where the opportunity to take part in a life-changing volunteering project has proved to be just the ticket for a group of WP students over the past five years.

Team Uganda is The University of Manchester’s flagship volunteering opportunity working with S.A.L.V.E International, a charity based in Manchester but operating in Uganda with street-connected children. S.A.L.V.E International aim to re-settle street children in Uganda back into their homes and return them to education. The ethos of the charity is about building trusting relationships with the children and providing support and access to services.

This project, run by colleagues in the Volunteering and Community Engagement Team in TLSD is intentionally aimed at Manchester students from an economically or socially disadvantaged background in a bid to rebalance the range of experiences available for those for whom self-funded travel, gap years and volunteering is far less common.

It's also a project with meaningful long term outcomes for the volunteers. 71 students from a widening participation background have participated over the past five years and the impact has been clearly demonstrated in many areas such as development of key skills particularly around leadership, teamwork and resilience, boosting confidence and communication skills, creating greater awareness of global issues and a desire to make a difference to the wider world which in turn has had an influence on career choice and employability.

The skills and experience gained from the work in Uganda can now be taken forward by our students and puts our widening participation graduates on a more level playing field than some would have otherwise have had the opportunity to gain.