On Wednesday 14th November, the University of Birmingham held a conference dedicated to supporting first-generation university students and encouraging them into success while studying

News Editor. Final year English Literature student.
Images by Redbrick

The conference was held on in the new Hotel and Conference Center on Edgbaston Park Road in partnership with the Accelerate and Access Foundation.

The Accelerate and Access Foundations promotes social mobility through education in the UK.

The conference was attended by members from over 50 higher education institutions from across the world and featured speakers from the US and the UK, with the intention of sharing initiatives.

First-generation students often lack cultural capital, meaning they often struggle to navigate the simpler elements of university

The conference focused on how to increase access to first-generation students and support them once they are admitted into university. First-generation students often lack cultural capital, meaning they often struggle to navigate the simpler elements of university such as writing formal emails to lecturers and navigating online systems and these students can’t turn to their parents for advice or guidance. First-generation students may also come from low-income families which means financial struggle also impacts their university experience.

The US keynote speakers were Jay Davies, Director of First-Year Student Enrichment at Dartmouth College and Princeton University’s Associate Dean for Access and Inclusion, Dr. Khristina Gonzalez.

Davis shared insight into First Year Student Enrichment Programme (FYEP) at Dartmouth. Introduced in 2009, the programme includes a pre-orientation session that helps students transition into university life.

Similarly, Gonzalez discussed the Scholars Institute Fellows Programme, which is designed for students from lower-income backgrounds to assist with their entrance into a different academic and social culture. The two also discussed the importance of students celebrating their first-generation status with visibility days or even week-long events.

First-generation students aren’t necessarily from low-income families

A UK perspective on the issue was discussed by Michelle Morgan, Associate Dean at Student Experience from Bournemouth University. One key aspect she highlighted was that many jobs in the UK didn’t necessarily require a degree until recently, meaning that first-generation students aren’t necessarily from low-income families. Morgan further added that UK universities aren’t funded from alumni or donors as fruitfully as American colleges meaning that funding often has to be used smartly which can create blocks to helping first-generation students. Concluding her talk, Morgan said that more needs to be done for postgraduate first-generation students who are often overlooked.

After the presentations, audience members were invited to direct questions at a panel. Featured on the panel was UoB biosciences graduate Sadhika Yasmin and second-year English Literature and Language student Georgia Wiley. Both students took part in the University’s Access to Birmingham (A2B) programme in year 13.

The A2B programme is aimed at students who have little experience of higher education. After completing and passing the programme in sixth form, the UoB entry requirements are reduced by two grades. In 2018, A2B had over 350 entrants to the University. It is available to students from the West Midlands who come from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds which might affect their chances of meeting normal entry grades.

Wiley told Redbrick, ‘the event was really insightful. It was interesting hearing from American speakers on how university works for them and what they are doing to help those who are the first in their family to attend university.’

‘As a UoB student, I am proud to see my university doing more to broaden participation, helping those like myself transition into university life’ Wiley added.