Higher education for all: How universities facilitate social mobility

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Students from underrepresented backgrounds will bring back positive impact to their home communities.

By U2B Staff 

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Universities hold a considerable amount of influence in society. Besides churning out cutting-edge research or developing new and marketable academic programmes, universities are also responsible for driving social mobility. 

As civic institutions, it is a priority of universities to provide higher education to all, regardless of family income, background or ethnicity. This is to ensure a future generation of skilled workers across every industry and remove socioeconomic disparities.

Despite that, financial troubles, lack of interest, or learning difficulties hinder youths from enrolling in their desired courses. 

This is where scholarships prove useful in contributing to social mobility by providing financial support for disadvantaged students and equipping them with the skills and education they need to improve their livelihood. 

Offering various scholarships to students from various backgrounds based on necessity and urgency will strengthen a university’s ability to provide a positive impact on society on a local, national and global scale. 


Scholarships change lives

There are many barriers that prevent disadvantaged university-going-aged youths from furthering their studies. 

Challenges such as the lack of financial support, poor secondary academic performance, lack of interest, unsupportive family members and more are faced by many youths across the world. 

Allowing students from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend university, especially those from developing countries, will not only equip them with new workforce-relevant skills once they return home, but it will also support the long-term vitality of higher education. 

Among the cultural benefits of universities fostering social mobility is that ability to broaden students’ horizons by diversifying the student body with students of different ethnicities, cultures, backgrounds and ways of thinking. 

Furthermore, exposing youths from disadvantaged backgrounds from developing or third-world countries to international education will be able to broaden their horizons with new experiences and mindsets. This will inspire them to drive positive change in their local communities once they return home. 

This proves that universities indeed play a prominent role in bringing a positive impact to societies around the world and scholarships will be the answer to break boundaries in education and empower more youths to build their skills to make a difference for their local communities. 

Universities are now doing all they can to encourage and support more students to further their studies. The following are a few successful efforts and initiatives by top-ranking universities to encourage social mobility across income backgrounds and state borders. 

#1: University of California Santa Cruz

UC Santa Cruz was recently ranked as the second-best top performer in social mobility according to the 2020 US News and World Report rankings. 

The university is committed to providing students from various backgrounds with full-access to higher education. The campus is continuously expanding its outreach programmes to ensure that students from low-income families as well as from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds gain access to high-quality tertiary education. 

This includes enrolling students who are recipients of federal Pell Grants, which are awarded to students from households earning less than US$50,000 annually. 

UC Santa Cruz will go on to educate more than 5,700 students from low-income backgrounds this year. 

As an equaliser for students from low-income families, the University of California system ensures that these students go on to earn as much as students who came from middle-income families with their earnings being doubled by a decade after graduation. 

The university is a leader in encouraging a diverse student body. It gained a value of 0.72 under the US News and World Report’s diversity index, with values closer to 1.0 meaning a student is more likely to meet students from different ethnic groups on campus. 

In the fall 2018 academic year, 28 percent of the undergraduate class was Asian, 26 percent was Hispanic, four percent was African American, and 0.8 percent was American Indian. 

social mobility
Thanks to these initiatives, these students will graduate with better degrees. Source: Adetayo Adepoju/Unsplash.

#2: University of Warwick

Warwick has initiated various efforts in the form of scholarships, guidance and career support for talented students from low-income and underrepresented ethnic groups.

 A recent initiative is Warwick Scholars, a programme which aims to remove educational, financial and social barriers to accessing higher education at Warwick and is targetted at students residing within a 30-mile commute from Warwick’s campus in Coventry and Warwickshire who are from disadvantaged backgrounds or underrepresented groups. 

The programme is expected to cost £10 million a year when running at full capacity. 

Besides that, Warwick also inspires its students and graduates to further advocate social mobility. 

For instance, in 2018, four Warwick students from disadvantaged backgrounds were celebrated for their achievements in advocating social mobility in the Student Social Mobility Awards organised by upReach– an organisation that supports students from disadvantaged backgrounds to secure jobs. 

These students who have received support from the university will bring positive impact and change to their respective communities.

#3 University of Sussex

The University of Sussex is notably one of the most committed institutions in the UK that aim to help students from all backgrounds access university education. 

What sets Sussex apart from the rest is that the university targets younger aspiring students as young as 10 years old to begin preparations on pursuing their studies up to a tertiary level. 

Besides that, Sussex also offers generous financial support packages for qualifying students from lower-income families as well as comprehensive progression and retention packages. 

The Making Choices programme is aimed at Year 8 and 9 pupils and is designed to give them a taste of university life and inspire them to pursue their further studies. 

The six-month programme involves activities such as building robots, staging mock court trials, making adverts, and using DNA to solve fictional crimes. 

The programme is an enriching experience that guides students towards a brighter future. After six months, the programme is complete with a graduation ceremony where parents are invited to attend. 

Besides that, Sussex also offers a range of residential and non-residential summer schools for Years 10 to 12 aimed at engaging GCSE and A-Level students in subjects they could study in university. The programme is supported by Sussex academic staff and students as ambassadors, mentors and tutors. 

Sussex also participates in the national Realising Opportunities programme which involves academics who mentor and support students from underrepresented groups on assignments. 

The university also collaborates with organisations such as the Villiers Park Educational Trust to support students to attain higher GSCE and A-level grades. 


#4 University of Bristol

The University of Bristol has a strong reputation in providing support for refugee students. Since 2016, the university has provided 37 scholarships to students from refugee and asylum-seeking backgrounds to give them access to tertiary education. 

The university’s most notable programme, the Sanctuary Scholarship, provides refugee students with financial aid through fee waivers and stipends as well as integration support for once they have entered the course of their choice. 

The scholarship can be awarded to students living in the UK from refugee or asylum-seeking backgrounds who wish to enrol in the university’s International Foundation Programmes, Foundation Programmes in Arts and Humanities, Undergraduate Courses, and Postgraduate Masters’ Programmes. 

The University of Bristol’s efforts in supporting refugee students has been recognised by the Student Mobility Awards. The institution won the award of the Highest-Impact University Initiative. 

#5 Arizona State University

Arizona State has put forward an innovative initiative to educate refugee students to enable them to gain the appropriate skills for their communities through further studies. 

Education for Humanity involves offering online courses to refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Uganda and Rwanda, and soon to be expanded to cater to students in Ethiopia and Kenya. 

What sets this initiative apart from the rest is that it is a remote programme conducted by Arizona State that ensures students get adequate tertiary education from their home countries. 

The first few courses began in the 2017 fall semester and in 2018, 422 learners were enrolled in these online courses. 

Since then, there has been a considerable amount of successful outcomes for the programme. Some students who completed a few of the English language courses have managed to land jobs in international organisations. 

Despite that, there are still a few barriers in delivering online courses for refugees. Every country has different requirements for accreditation. In addition, many refugees lack stable internet connections and some don’t have enough free time to take the classes.