New campaign highlights the success stories of first-generation university students

Mon 15 April, 2024
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The success of students from the University of Bedfordshire who were the first in their families to attend university is being highlighted in a new national campaign led by Universities UK.

Megan Murphy and Dr Suzella Palmer are both graduates of Bedfordshire who feature in the ‘100 Faces’ campaign, which aims to champion and celebrate the positive impact of ‘first-in-the-family’ graduates on the UK.

Since graduating from the Radio & Audio course in 2021, Megan has since gone on to launch a budding broadcast journalism career and currently works as the Good Morning Britain presenter for ITV Channel TV.

Dr Palmer’s career has come full circle and she now works as a Senior Lecturer in Applied Social Studies at the University of Bedfordshire after completing a Criminology degree and PhD with the institution.

Click on their names below to find out more about Megan and Suzella’s inspirational journeys to university and how their experience helped to shape their lives and careers:

Megan lives and grew up in Jersey in the Channel Islands. She came to study at the University of Bedfordshire through Clearing after experiencing issues with her student finance loan and was the first in her family to pursue a university education. When she started studying at the University of Bedfordshire, it was Megan’s first time living away from home and moving to the UK. She studied Radio & Audio at the University of Bedfordshire and thrived in her studies, participating in numerous extra-curricular activities including becoming the Student Manager of the University’s on-campus community radio station, Radio LaB. Megan achieved a First Class degree and is now working for ITV News in the Channel Islands as the Early Presenter for Good Morning Britain.

Megan said: “Starting university had a major positive impact on my life. My confidence really grew once I joined the University of Bedfordshire and is one of the key reasons I am the way I am today. Going to university really pushed me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to push myself to meet new people - something that is a key part of my job today. I went from a reasonably shy person, to becoming outgoing and comfortable in unfamiliar situations.”

Suzella is a 53-year old mother and grandmother, who is a graduate of the University of Bedfordshire. Suzella grew up on an inner city estate and was raised by her father after her mother passed away when she was five. Suzella’s father passed away a few years later and at the age of 14, she dropped out of school, became involved in criminal activities and also entered the care system until the age of 16. Having no qualifications, Suzella struggled to find work and, although she was ambitious, believed that the life chances for people like her (young, black, female and working class) were severely limited and that a university education was beyond her capabilities and outside of her comfort zone. Suzella moved to Luton after having children and embarked on an access to health and social care course to improve her career prospects and after successfully completing the course, gaining a distinction, Suzella then began studying for a Criminology degree at the University of Bedfordshire. She gained a First Class degree and, encouraged by her lecturers, went on to complete a PhD in Criminology. Suzella now work as Senior Lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire where she has found that her lived experience is valued and adds value to her teaching.

Suzella said: “A University education has transformed my life by giving me the knowledge, skillset and confidence to recognise and achieve my potential academically and, for over 20 years now, I have been fortunate to be able to study and teach on issues that I am passionate about which gives me a high level of job satisfaction. I have always been a staunch advocate for social justice and social change and a university education provided me with the ideal space, resources and tools I needed to really be able to explore and understand the often complex causes of social problems and to find innovative ways to redress these.

“As a result, my work on the injustices experienced by black young people in the criminal justice system and my work on serious youth violence have had positive impacts in terms of challenging erroneous narratives and contributing to policy and practice development which, for me, means that I can actually do my bit to make the world a better place. My knowledge and expertise on serious youth violence has also enabled me to support and advise friends, family members and community groups when they approach me for help.

“Going to university also meant that I met and mixed with people who I had not really interacted with before which was, and continues to be, really valuable in terms of being exposed to people who have grown up in different environments with different cultures and cultural references and different ways of behaving. As a social scientist, this created a real opportunity to learn about others as well as learning about myself and changing how I thought I fit in the world.

“Although I didn’t think I would fit in at university, and that university was outside of my comfort zone, being around people who shared an interest or passion in the same discipline and subject areas, made me feel like I did fit in. By going to university, I have also inadvertently set a standard for my children, who see a university education as something that is very achievable and they both gone on to pursue Higher Degrees.”

As part of the ‘100 Faces’ campaign, new research reveals the transformative impact of going to university on ambition, with almost three quarters (73%) of first-in-the-family students agreeing their degree gave them the confidence to apply for jobs without feeling like an imposter.

The success of students like Megan and Dr Palmer is testament to the extraordinary role university can play, with three quarters of first-in-the-family respondents saying that their experiences at university made them more confident and ambitious, gave them broader life experiences and crucial life skills which continue to be impactful long after graduation.

Vivienne Stern MBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK, commented: “The experiences of students who are the first in their families to have been to university tell a powerful story. I am amazed by how many graduates talked about having imposter syndrome – and the way that earning a degree helped to banish that feeling. I believe we have a responsibility to keep working to ensure a wider range of people in this country get access to the potentially transformative experience of going to university. For that to happen, we really do need to see an improvement in maintenance support to support those from the least privileged backgrounds.”


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