The University of Birmingham recently hosted a high profile and successful conference, in partnership with Accelerate and Access Foundation, on supporting and empowering first generation higher education students by sharing best practice from across the US and UK.

The event featured key note speeches from leading academics from two prestigious U.S Ivy League universities, including Dr Khristina Gonzalez, Associate Dean for Access and Inclusion at Princeton University and Jay Davis, Director of First Year Student Enrichment at Dartmouth College. Michelle Morgan, Associate Dean, Student Experience at Bournemouth University and Dr Alaric Rae, Deputy Director of External Relations at the University of Birmingham were able to provide a UK perspective. Deborah Hannam, Co-Founder, who established the initiative, welcomed the speakers on behalf Accelerate and Access Foundation.

The University of Birmingham has an established Access to Birmingham (A2B) programme for students who have little or no experience of higher education. The University has a long history of welcoming students from a wide variety of social and cultural backgrounds and was one of the first universities to set up a fair access scheme for local students in 2000. In 2018, A2B had over 350 entrants and the 2017 intake saw 81 percent of students achieve a First or 2:1 degree, while 85 percent went on to good graduate jobs.

The Conference also focused on how to retain students joining on access programmes, with Jay Davis sharing insight into a first year enrichment programme run at the New Hampshire University, while Dr Gonzalez shared insight from a science, technology, engineering and mathematics perspective.

Jay said:

“The conference provided a unique opportunity to meet with educators from across England (and even Australia) – all of whom were connected by a passionate commitment to supporting the recruitment and the engaged retention of first generation and low-income students.  It is always inspiring to be in a room filled to overflowing with people committed to issues of educational equity.”

Dr Gonzalez said:

“While the conversation on equitable college access at selective and highly-selective colleges and universities is becoming more and more robust, we must also ensure that all of our students have the opportunity to thrive once they arrive on our campuses. I was thus thrilled to be a part of this emerging international conversation on how we might best support and empower our talented first-generation, lower-income college and university students. It was a great opportunity to share best practices with colleagues from around the world, and, most importantly, to center our students’ stories and experience, using these narratives to inspire and inform lasting institutional change.”

Over 50 higher education institutions from across the world attended the event.