The Sutton Trust, which works to combat educational inequality, has described low social mobility as the biggest social challenge of our times:
“The income gap between the richest and poorest in society continues to widen, while education opportunities remain overwhelmingly dominated by children from the most privileged homes.”
Education can make all the difference for people struggling to improve their lives. But young people from many disadvantaged areas who might see college or university as an escape route from low income employment are encountering significant barriers to education. And location can aggravate the problem. The Social Mobility Commission’s 2017 report found that just 10% of disadvantaged teenagers from Barnsley, Hastings and Eastbourne make it to university, while the figure for Kensington and Chelsea is 50%.
In Scotland, a 2015 Sutton Trust report on widening access to education found that, despite offering free tuition, the country had the worst record in the UK when it comes to getting students from poorer backgrounds into university. The report noted that:
“…despite improvements, young disadvantaged Scottish people are four times less likely to go to university than their wealthier counterparts. In England the same figure is 2.4, while in Wales and Northern Ireland, poorer students are three times more likely to do so.”
The Scottish Government claims that the situation is now improving. In March, Scotland’s higher education minister, Shirley-Anne Somerville reported a 13% increase in the number of Scots from the most deprived communities getting places to study at a Scottish university:
“That means over 600 additional people from the most deprived communities being accepted to study at university.”
The Robertson Trust: a journey to success
One organisation trying to overcome the barriers facing disadvantaged young people is the Robertson Trust. The trust is Scotland’s largest independent funder, awarding over £16m per year to Scottish charities. Its four main objectives are:
- improving outcomes for individuals and communities
- improving capacity of third sector organisations to deliver impact to their beneficiaries
- building and using evidence to inform policy and practice
- developing greater understanding of the trust’s role as a funder
Since 1992, the Robertson Trust has provided scholarships, bursary awards and grants to individuals, and has been working with colleges and universities to remove barriers to participation in education.
More recently, the trust has developed a dedicated training and mentoring programme called Journey to Success. The programme supports over 600 higher education students at any one time with a bursary and personal development programme.
Students are nominated by their school or university for a place on the programme, and each year around 160 students join the Journey to Success. Once accepted, students receive a bursary of £4000 a year (£2,800 if they live at home). But the bursary is just the start of a long-term support programme that includes the development of skills to support students in their future careers. This is achieved through residential weekends, university workshops, internships and mentoring.
The Journey to Success programme also supports students in undertaking volunteering placements and in providing funding for self-development awards in particular activities Recent examples include working on a hospital ship on Lake Tanzania and developing British Sign Language (BSL) signs for scientific terms.
Making social mobility work
The Journey to Success programme is living up to its name. In 2015/16, 88% of the programme’s graduates received a degree classification of 2:1 or above, and most go on to employment in a graduate job or further study.
Clearly, the programme can only support a fraction of the young people who have the ability but not the means to further their education. But its success demonstrates the benefits of giving social mobility a helping hand.
As Gordon Hunt, the Robertson Trust’s Head of Scholarship explains:
“…the aim of the Journey to Success programme “is to give students from disadvantaged backgrounds the support and guidance that will help them to overcome the barriers they face in fulfilling their potential.”
You may also be interested in reading some of our previous blog posts on the subject of social mobility:
- Addressing social mobility through education – is it enough?
- The rhetoric of social mobility continues… yet disadvantaged pupils continue to fall behind
- Hitting the glass floor: the impact of social background on earnings
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