Universities collaborate to ensure secondary pupils are ready for Higher Education

Wed 22 July, 2020
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Funded by the Office for Students (OfS), the Universities of Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Northampton have teamed up to launch the Aspire Higher project for prospective students to learn and discover what to expect from university life and study.

Aspire Higher, part of the OfS Uni Connect initiative, has one goal – to keep secondary students on track to further their qualifications and achieve career excellence. The project has successfully continued to support pupils throughout lockdown despite limitations brought about by the pandemic.

Teamwork and determination between the three universities has also enabled the Aspire Higher team to develop its main in-person summer event series, and this July they launched University Experience LIVE – the platform’s first virtual event.

In preparation, they received vital support from Luton-based content production company, Clearhead, which developed the event’s digital infrastructure to help mitigate the knock-on effects of Covid19. This input will allow Aspire Higher to continue delivering collaborative projects online in the future.

Paula Page, Collaborative Outreach Project Manager with Bedfordshire’s Centre for Academic Partnerships, said: “We are grateful for the partnership Bedfordshire has with University of Northampton and University of Hertfordshire. Aspire Higher’s University Experience LIVE demonstrates the invaluable impact of bringing together expertise from three higher education institutions, with the unified goal of increasing access to the sector.

“We are also delighted that Clearhead was able to support our virtual event as their founders are University of Bedfordshire alumni. Another inspirational story to tell students who are considering higher education!”

Over 150 students signed up to the event from schools and colleges across Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire. There were also online attendees from Oxfordshire, Milton Keynes and London, as well as home-educated teens and a number of perspective students as far as India and Indonesia.

A live chat function was in operation throughout the day to allow attendees to ask questions, raise concerns and interact with one another which was monitored by Aspire Higher staff and Ambassadors from the three universities, including Julie English, Senior Health & Wellbeing Officer from University of Bedfordshire’s Student Support team.

Popular questions asked and answered included:

  • What is Clearing and how does it work?
  • How have current students found the jump from school to university?
  • How do university students manage their time and workload?
  • How do student loans and student finance work?
  • Can students get jobs at the university they join?
  • What can students expect in terms of digital learning and the transition back into face-to-face teaching?
  • What’s the difference between a lecture and a seminar?
  • How has student accommodation been affected by Covid19?  Will I find out who I am living with before term starts and can I decorate my room?
  • Will clubs, libraries, social spaces and SUs be open?
  • What will happen for Fresher’s Week?

Overall, the Aspire Higher team felt that there was a real buzz of positivity from the prospective students, with the majority still wanting to go to university this year despite acknowledging that the overall experience will be different due to Covid19.

Dr Jon Rainford, Digital Learning Development Officer at Bedfordshire’s Centre for Learning Excellence, said: “Transitioning into higher education can be challenging, and even more so during a time like this. We’re hopeful that this event and the Aspire Higher resources will give students who are heading to university the best possible preparation, so that they have one less thing to worry about come autumn.”

All presentations from the virtual University Experience LIVE are available on the Aspire Higher YouTube channel and via https://aspire-higher.co.uk/, where lots of other useful videos and resources can also be found for university students in the making.


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