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Social Mobility: A university that’s getting it right

  • 25 April 2022
  • By Vicki Young

HEPI’s hybrid Policy Briefing Day is on 27 April 2022 and institutions that support HEPI are entitled to a free place.

This blog was written by Vicki Young from the UK Social Mobility Awards which can be found on Twitter @SOMOAwards.

Sheffield Hallam University has one simple mission – to transform lives. It has a community of more than 30,000 students and 4,000 staff members. The figures are not unusual for a large and popular university in the UK. However, what is notably impressive is that for five consecutive years, the University has educated more students from underrepresented backgrounds than any other UK university. In 2020-21, more than half its students were the first to attend university in their families. Within this group, 65 per cent were from one or more less advantaged, underrepresented, or vulnerable group or groups. 

One of the UK’s most diverse universities, Sheffield Hallam has been doing some incredible things in the social mobility space; in fact, the University won an award for its efforts in 2021. Sheffield Hallam actively aims to improve access to higher education for students from non-traditional and underrepresented backgrounds. So, what are they doing, and why is it important?

Why is it important to advance social mobility within higher education institutions?

There’s a reason why it’s a government social mobility target to ensure young people have access to higher education. Those who stay in higher education ultimately have increased access to higher level jobs, higher earning roles and more professional opportunities.

The Sutton Trust published research in November 2021 which highlighted the importance of social mobility in universities, with a specific focus on income mobility. They found that higher education is a key driver for social mobility, as young people from low-income backgrounds are four times more likely to become socially mobile if they attend a university. 

What is Sheffield Hallam doing to advance social mobility?

In 2020-21, Sheffield Hallam had three main aims to advance social mobility within the University: 

  • to improve access to higher education;
  • to deliver excellent support services to their current students; and
  • to provide regional leadership to set a standard.

When talking about Sheffield Hallam’s social mobility activities, Greg Burke, Director of Place and Civic Engagement stated: 

we [Sheffield Hallam] exist to create opportunities for people to achieve their potential and their aspirations, and not be restricted by their background or where they come from.

Sheffield Hallam is dedicated to identifying ways to support progression into higher education, starting from the early years.

Some of the initiatives that Sheffield Hallam have put in place are:

  • The launch of the first university-led Early Year and Community Research Centre in a deprived area of Sheffield.
  • A school governor project with Inspiring Governance, connecting Hallam volunteers and business partners to schools and colleges in disadvantaged areas with governor vacancies.
  • Expansion of the Children’s University across South Yorkshire – providing high quality extra-curricular learning opportunities. Children taking part made two additional months of progress in reading and Mathematics. 
  • In 2020, Sheffield Hallam launched a unique initiative that sees graduates act as mentors to pupils in South Yorkshire. Graduates are deployed in local schools to help young people re-engage with their studies, navigate the transition back to full time learning and support their overall wellbeing. More than 1,000 GCSE and A-level pupils in South Yorkshire have received extra one-to-one support with their studies thanks to GROW Mentoring. 
  • Various interventions to inspire students in secondary school to consider different careers such as healthcare, cyber security and forensic analysis.
  • Higher and Degree apprenticeships workshops, which support students to increase their knowledge of this alternative route into higher education. 

How can other universities get involved in prioritising social mobility?

Institutions putting social mobility on their agenda suggest identifying two or three areas where you can make a difference, to keep your strategy focused and achievable.

Buy-in from senior leadership is essential to ensure social mobility is a priority. Find at least one senior leader to act as a champion for socio-economic diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Use the Social Mobility Commission’s toolkit to inform your SEB data collection and analysis. Over time, these data will be crucial to develop targeted social mobility interventions, to track the effectiveness of your work and to report progress against your goals.

If you are already working to prioritise this important area, be acknowledged for your organisation’s social mobility accomplishments by entering this year’s UK Social Mobility Awards.

Nominations open on the 25th of April and applications can be submitted here.

Register here for HEPI’s Policy Briefing Day.

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