Levelling the playing field for widening participation students

With thousands of new graduates entering the job market every year, getting the first step on the ladder can be a challenge, and a university degree doesn’t necessarily open all of the doors.

Group of Ugandan children playing

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

For many students from a widening participation background, getting to university is a huge achievement because of the barriers they may have had to overcome to make this step towards a brighter future.

Many young people from widening participation backgrounds won’t have had the opportunity to travel the world, complete meaningful work experience, or volunteer, which employers often look for during recruitment.

Team Rwanda

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 widening participation students over the past five years.

Team Rwanda is the University’s flagship volunteering opportunity working with Support and Love Via Education (SALVE) International a charity based in Manchester but operating in Rwanda with street-connected children.

SALVE International aim to resettle street children in Rwanda and help them return to education. The charity’s ethos is about building trusting relationships with the children and providing support and access to services.

The project – run by the Volunteering and Community Engagement Team in Teaching, Learning and Student Development – is aimed at Manchester students from an economically or socially disadvantaged background to provide opportunities for students where self-funded travel, gap years, and volunteering is far less common.

It's a project with meaningful long term outcomes for the volunteers. Students volunteered over 280 hours to the Team Rwanda project in summer 2021, and the impact has been clearly demonstrated in areas of skill development, such as leadership, teamwork, and resilience.

This project also supports students in boosting their confidence, developing their communication skills, creating greater awareness of global issues and a desire to make a difference in the wider world.

Skills and experience gained from the project create a more level playing field for our widening participation graduates as these are linked to positive influences on career choice and employability.