Nottingham Trent University 1990 – before university accommodation got posh and I realised that sticking out my bum was not a good look.
Not just for the rich kids
Last week I had lunch with a catholic priest from the Ivory Coast; a catholic priest studying multimedia journalism in Manchester.
This guy was fascinating, in half an hour, I learnt so much. He told me how the Church in Africa had recognised it was out of touch with its young congregation and had sent him to the UK to gain the knowledge needed to bring their communication strategies bang up to date.
He also told me about his home life and what it’s like to be a priest in West Africa. I was introduced to a whole new world; a world I’d have been unlikely to ever consider if it wasn’t for this chance encounter. My mind was opened in a way I’d never have thought possible over a cheese sandwich.
But then I’d forgotten just what a special place university can be. Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), like many other universities, is a cultural melting pot, where students from across the globe are brought together to learn and to live. In this environment, the countries of the world are united, barriers are broken down and minds are opened.
For me, this experience should not be an elite privilege but something all young people can have access too if they so wish. With most Universities soon likely to implement the maximum tuition fee of £9,000 a year, what chance do young people from low income families have of affording a University education?
Ironically, I met the priest as part of an initiative designed to increase participation in higher education, us both having signed up to be Widening Participation Ambassadors. When the Government changed fee structures, they implemented a policy whereby to justify higher course fees, universities must implement a strategy to attract ‘non-traditional’ students to higher education. The idea is that, through participating in a range of activities that expose them to the university environment, children are more likely to consider higher education as an option.
The Outreach Ambassadors at MMU are a response to this. We do some really cool stuff: creative writing sessions in the Manchester Art Gallery, curriculum support activity in schools and mentoring are just a few of the things I am involved with. The idea is to get children thinking about university from an early age, and then as they get older, offer more structured support to help them make informed choices about their future and the role higher education might play in this.
I feel really proud to be part of the ambassador programme, but at the same time, I really wish such programmes were not necessary. After all, surely the best way to increase participation is to make education affordable to everyone? So whilst I am extremely happy to be an ambassador, to do everything I can to ensure that ordinary kids get to understand the benefits of higher education, I wish it were different.
I had access to a free university education; my experiences as an undergraduate were formative in the narrative that is Riewriting. I am saddened, that for the current generation it will be a very different story.
It is time to educate the policy makers before higher education becomes the domain of the rich kids.