Want to hear how *ace* NEON's Summer Symposium was? Keep reading!
Last week we headed to Lancaster University for two days of talking all things widening participation and improving access to higher education. Why? Because it was NEON's annual Summer Symposium!
WP and improving access are topics extremely close to our hearts here at The Access Platform; in fact, if anyone has ever chatted to our co-founder Nik, you’ve probably heard him tell the story of how that desire to make it easier for disadvantaged students to have a better shot of making it to University was a driving force behind our company being created.
So, in short, we are big fans and advocates of WP and access (it’s literally in our name!), so being involved with the NEON Summer Symposium for the first time was a real treat.
It was terrific to spend a couple of days in Lancaster - even if the weather made a mockery of the ‘summer’ part of the event’s title - and it was excellent to meet so many of you.
We tried to get to as many sessions as we could and came home with plenty of scribbled notes. With that in mind, we’ve done our best to sum up the big things we’ve taken away from our trip north - keep scrolling to see them!
It’s all about the data
Data is absolutely vital to the work of access and WP professionals, but is also one of the biggest challenges. There’s also a real catch-22 situation; the most useful data - stats that are individual, specific and verified - tend to be the most difficult to get hold of.
On the flip side, the readily-available data is often much higher level and more general - it’s a pain for sure.
Emily Hughes from Kingston University, discussed how vital data is in qualifying the importance of their work in supporting students who are care leavers, as is collaboration.
Others found that GDPR regulations can limit the extent to which data can be shared between institutions, when collaborating on studies or RCTs.
Small details make a big difference
This essentially became the unofficial catchphrase of the whole event. It came from one of the *incredible* speeches from NEON’s students of the year.
The phrase we’ve pulled out was from Salma, a third-year medicine student at Lancaster who has done some fantastic WP work alongside, y’know, studying for her degree.
She made the point of how the smallest things - staff smiling at you when get on campus, being able to talk to current students and see, with your own eyes, that you could do this too - can make a huge difference in encouraging WP students to apply.
Such a basic principle, but so easy to overlook.
Unleash your trump card - make more of your students!
Ok, we’re totally biased here given what we do, but the thing we kept coming back to in almost every session we attended was the power of your students to tell your story and advocate for you.
We’ve always banged the drum for the power of student ambassadors in talking to prospective students and helping your recruitment efforts. But, the same is true for WP and access too.
Across the two days at NEON we were lucky enough to hear from a variety of students who have gone through to higher education from a WP background. Honestly, they’re some of the most inspirational people we’ve met.
Universities can all do more to find their own WP students and get them involved as student ambassadors. You need to find students that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds will identify with, so put them front and centre and let them do it.
So many students might never think to go to university because they don’t have anyone in their immediate network or circles who have been through the process themselves. Instead, the sector should be putting their own students forward to be that point of contact.
You should be putting out the stories of your own WP students for two reasons. One, they are *amazing* and two, they will also reflect wonderfully on your institution.
And - absolute shameless plug alert - we can definitely help with that! If you didn’t get a chance to check out our platform last week just hit the button below and we’ll give you a demo.