I care a lot about empowering the future generation to achieve their best. However, access to higher education is unequal, depending on where one was born. Other factors such as the family’s socioeconomic position, urban versus rural schools, and gender views in the local culture also determine whether an individual eventually completes or furthers their education.
Kimberley Simms, Head of Widening Participation at the University of Nottingham, was generous enough to talk to me about Nottingham Potential, a series of programs that support underrepresented and vulnerable students to attend tertiary education. Their activities are divided into primary school outreach, IntoUniversity partnership, Ambition Nottingham for students aged twelve to sixteen, and summer schools for students aged between seventeen and eighteen years.
Our conversation has been condensed below:
Congratulations on the tenth anniversary of Nottingham Potential. You work with different student groups. Could you share more about them?
We work with primary schools where a high proportion of children receive free school meals and students are not likely to have a family history of higher education. We talk to students about what university is about and what options are available to them in the future. It’s about opening up the horizon for children to consider higher education because we know that many students would have talked themselves out of higher education by the time they reach fourteen years old. It is important to start talking to them from a younger age to introduce the idea of continuing their education slowly and gradually.
We also have a partnership with IntoUniversity based within communities where we know the youth are less likely to access higher education. We have three learning centers in Nottingham at St Ann’s, Broxtowe, and Hyson Green. IntoUniversity provides academic support, mentoring, and buddy sessions at these centers where current University of Nottingham students from the local community come and engage in academic activities. While IntoUniversity programs are based on youth living in certain areas, we also target particular individuals under the Ambition Nottingham program. This program is for students between Years 8 and 11 (ages twelve to sixteen) with partner schools. The schools select students based on specific criteria, such as potential attainment of good grades at GCSEs, and we provide sessions to teach them about university. For students in Years 12 and 13, we provide open an access virtual program which means that participants from any background get information that they would otherwise get from visiting the university in person. Some students will get acceptance or contextual offers to the University of Nottingham. I asked Kim about the impact of the program and she shared the following incredible figures with me:
IntoUniversity: 14,000 students in ten years and over 5,000 mentoring hours. Fifty-nine percent of participants progress into higher education at University of Nottingham centers (compared to 15 percent progression rate in the areas where the centers are based).
Primary School program: Sixty schools with around 20,000 contact opportunities, including family learning activities.
Summer Schools: Almost 4,000 participants, 92 percent of whom decide to pursue higher education.
I also asked Kim to share with me some stories of program participants. Here are some of the quotes from them:
Maddy, Summer School participant and University of Nottingham graduate: “I didn’t see myself as academically clever, so I never saw Nottingham as a realistic option for me, but summer school gave me so much motivation and confidence to get here. I can’t believe that was five years ago.”
IntoUniversity Nottingham East participant: IntoUniversity provides me with a quiet space where I can focus on my school work and progress my learning. I live in a very loud household, so this is really important for me. Spending time at IntoUniversity has developed my communication skills, especially with adults.
Primary School teacher: The range of purposeful and engaging activities gives the children the opportunity to think about their futures, including the cast range of career options open to them. The visit to the University of Nottingham gives them a genuine insight into Higher Education; this is especially important for children with no family history of attending university.
What are you most proud of in your work with Nottingham Potential?
For me, meeting with the students and seeing how much they’ve changed, from the beginning of the program when they were very quiet to the end when they tell you how much they want to come and study with you. That’s really powerful. I enjoy a lot of my work with the initiative. But what is exciting for me is when I see policy changes impacting students' lives. For example, at our summer schools, the students get a contextual offer which is a lower offer to come to Nottingham University. So we’ve not only supported them personally but have also broken down barriers, systematic and process barriers, and provided students access to university.
What has made the program so successful is the fantastic team participating in Nottingham Potential. We are sector-leading in this type of initiative because of the conscientious and innovative staff members who are very much in tune with students’ needs—for example, moving the summer schools to a hybrid model so that students can access information as and when they want to.
We also have students who previously attended our summer schools become our ambassadors and start working with us as team members. It is wonderful to see that progression. The cross-institutional support for Nottingham Potential is also something very powerful; academics and the students union help to provide an immersive experience to the participants.
The effort of the entire team has improved the outcomes for these underrepresented students.
It can be intimidating to know which programs and organizations to support, with thousands to choose from. In selecting which programs to donate to, look for transparency in reporting and affiliated organizations. Look for programs that research whether their work addresses their mission.
One hundred percent of monies donated to Nottingham Potential will fund their different programs. If you are interested in supporting their work, you can donate through this link: https://alumni.nottingham.ac.uk/impact/donationform-potential