Manchester support of widening participation students across the whole student life cycle

Supporting young people and ensuring access to our programmes has been high on the list of priorities at The University of Manchester, particularly for our widening participation (WP) students whether they be current or prospective students.

Like many organisations, universities have been adapting ways of working and finding alternative ways to deliver their services during the coronavirus pandemic.

With growing evidence that there has been a disproportionate impact of the virus on disadvantaged groups, The University of Manchester has been working hard to try to bolster the support to minimise the burden for our most disadvantaged students. Whether this has been an impact on health both physically and mentally, finances due to part-time job losses or family financial vulnerability or on education due to factors such as lack of study space, support or IT accessibility, the University has put a range of measures in place and has more in development.

Online resources

A range of new resources have been developed and made available online for teachers, advisers and prospective students. These include information and advice about the application process as well as subject-specific content. In April the Manchester Access Programme (MAP) launched with its largest ever cohort of more than 650 students who will continue to engage with the programme online and receive support from their academic tutors via Zoom meetings.

Some of our events that were planned with teachers, advisers and other key stake holders have been delivered online including our attendance at The Russell Group Teachers Conference and delivery of the' Supporting the Supporter' event as part of Greater Manchester Higher aimed at adults who support young people who are care experienced. In addition, The University’s School Governor Initiative has held two network meetings virtually where staff governors were able to share work being done in their schools to support home learning, particularly in the case of disadvantaged learners, and how they are preparing for school re-openings.

Our collaborative partnership Greater Manchester Higher (GMH) has identified a series of priorities for the current time and staff from across the partnership have been tasked with looking at alternative ways of engaging with the 6,000 learners who would have participated in events during the spring and summer terms. The Year 10 mentoring programme has been moved online and the GMH website updated in order to promote activities taking place virtually.

Over recent weeks the University has also hosted large scale live events such as The Great Science Share which attracted more than 90,000 young people, and our first ever virtual open week which replaced the normal summer open days and engaged more than 6,000 visitors in online sessions.

Enhanced communications

In terms of communicating with students due to start here in September, an offer-holder communication to WP flagged students provided reassurance that flexibility will be applied when considering their calculated grades and highlighting the range of support available to them. Enhancements to student support information on the University website were also made.

Application and transition support is now being provided via Unibuddy student and staff profiles and to bolster support for students returning to us in September, WP students will be given prioritisation for a laptop loan and provision of a dongle for Wi-Fi access.  These students will also receive further targeted communications and there will be named support for specific groups of students, in particular estranged, care-experienced and sanctuary seeker students.

Financial and digital access support for current students

From a financial perspective, an extension of the Living Cost Support Fund has been granted meaning more money will be available to those most in need and there will be continuation of financial support through the Manchester Bursary and other targeted scholarships. We also recognised the need to ensure students had the necessary digital access for online learning and established a laptop loan scheme. This has now been extended and students, particularly from low-income backgrounds, can request a laptop loan or support for Wi-Fi access. For our current students the Emergency Hardship Fund Appeal has raised more than a staggering £1 million from donors in more than 80 countries. Together their gifts to the emergency fund will make sure no student is left struggling.