On 20 June, AccessHE welcomed five policy staff from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science in the Netherlands to an information-gathering trip in London. Led by Renske Heemskerk (Senior Policy Officer), the group were interested in finding out more about encouraging and supporting equal opportunities within education – particularly trying to address a noticeable attainment gap in the Netherlands between those following academic versus vocational routes in education. Drs Graeme Atherton (Head of AccessHE) and Jamie Mackay (Deputy Head of AccessHE) worked with colleagues at London Metropolitan University to organise an insightful visit where Renske and her colleagues could meet key staff and students involved in delivering impactful interventions across the student lifecycle (i.e. student access, retention and success initiatives).
Professor John Raftery (Vice-Chancellor of London Metropolitan University and AccessHE Chair) welcomed the delegation to the University and gave some context and background to the institution – particularly how successful it was in attracting non-traditional students who might not have otherwise progressed to higher level learning. Professor Raftery also introduced some key initiatives to support students whilst studying but also prepare them for the work place (e.g. peer-assisted student support and internal work experience opportunities), before handing over to Sophie Cloutterbuck (Head of Schools, Colleges and Widening Participation), Liz Routhorn (Widening Participation Manager) and three Student Ambassadors.
Sophie and her team provided an overview of the University’s widening participation activity – both to attract non-traditional learners into higher education but also support them once they have arrived. Jamie offered some wider perspectives, including some background to national programmes such as Aimhigher and the more recent Uni Connect Programme (UC) in which AccessHE is involved. During a tour of the University campus, three Student Ambassadors provided additional insight, reflecting on their own backgrounds and journeys into higher education.
Following the tour, London Metropolitan staff provided further details into how students are supported whilst at the University to not only make the experience valuable but also relevant – helping to build social capital and transferable skills from meaningful experiences (including some paid work!).
Afterwards, Renske commented that the visit, “…was very inspirational” and we look forward to maintaining a link in the future to support further developments. As colleagues may be aware, there are increasing numbers of HE courses taught in English being offered in the Netherlands and some say although these are attractive to foreign students (including from the UK) they don’t help address the widening attainment gap between groups of their own, home students. As Renske commented during her visit, “There is much to learn from the UK.”