In lockdown with… Kate Oliver, Royal Veterinary College (RVC)

May 7, 2020

We caught up with Kate Oliver from the Widening Participation team at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) to reflect on the challenges facing the institution and learners in the current climate, as well understand the potential for opportunity and innovation for through HE outreach. If you’d like to feature in the future, please contact us.

Who are you?
I’m Kate Oliver, from the Widening Participation team at the Royal Veterinary College. I joined the RVC and HE sector last year, after working in education and access in museums & zoos for most of my career – so working with children and animals is my happy place!

What is your institution’s connection to AccessHE?
The team and I attend AccessHE forums to share best practice and experiences, and we’ve got a great relationship with the London-based UniConnect programmes: from our staff and Student Ambassadors supporting events in schools, to running events on campus. We’ve had groups visit to get inspired by an ethical debate session with our animal welfare lecturers, and even learn equine health with our live horses.

Considering the current climate, what have been some of the challenges your team has faced and the concerns you have been hearing from students and their influencers?
It’s been an intense few months as we shifted our thinking from “how do we postpone this programme” to “how we deliver our Widening Participation aims in this entirely different context”! Our team have learnt so much so quickly about best practice in online learning, platforms and safeguarding, and we’ve now got ambitious virtual programmes planned. It’s been exhausting but exciting too – we’re making the most of the opportunities to really improve our reach and evaluation. The main challenges are how to meet young people’s needs in their individual setting (e.g. without good internet access), and to give them an engaging and valuable programme without the benefits of them experiencing the campus themselves (yet).

How do you see outreach provision in Higher Education looking in the foreseeable future?
We’re very aware that prospective students from underrepresented backgrounds are going to be most disadvantaged by this crisis, so are having to be more flexible, and do more listening, than ever. Most of the young people signed up to our programmes (e.g. summer schools) this year are still keen to attend virtually, so that’s great. In a future where face-to-face programmes will continue to be limited, we’ve got a real opportunity to reach young people nationwide who wouldn’t have been able to physically attend a programme – we’ve got to make the most of that.

Can you share a couple of examples of innovative practice your institution has been trialling? How are they going so far?
We’re setting up a new log-in support website specifically for young people who meet Widening Participation criteria – a first for RVC. Our Recruitment team have already run several Virtual Offer Holder Days which were very popular in terms of attendance (more than the physical events) and engagement – a live text chat feature with staff & students was particularly successful. In terms of Widening Participation events our first is scheduled for the end of May, so we’ll let you know how it goes!