Inside Track – Louise Banahene: ‘A place where all students belong’

Louise Banahene, Director of Educational Engagement, discusses why a new Access and Student Success Strategy is needed now.

Louise Banahene June 2019

Students at Leeds form a highly diverse cohort. They come to study with us informed by a vast array of different backgrounds and experiences and we celebrate and embrace this.

They include – but are not limited to - students from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, mature students, those who are from neighbourhoods with low participation in higher education, and many, many more.

But it is always important to acknowledge that each individual’s life experiences are unique and don’t fit neatly into boxes.

Across the HE sector there are barriers facing all of these different students and Leeds is no exception. We have always worked hard to understand these barriers and to do everything we can to eradicate them.

We use an evidence-based approach as exemplified through our Access and Participation Plan and have initiatives such as Access to Leeds and the work of the Lifelong Learning Centre that are well-embedded; more so than many others in the sector.

We all need to continue to take action to address inequality at all levels of study and this new strategy sets out clear targets and timelines to help us all achieve that.


We will focus our efforts across the four pillars of the student lifecycle: access; continuation; awarding gaps and attainment; progression. As the strategy outlines, there are many factors as well as issues that can impact on access and student success.

The degree awarding gap is an example of this. Black and Asian students at the University of Leeds are significantly less likely to be awarded an upper second-class degree or higher compared to White peers. This inequality continues at taught postgraduate level and is undoubtedly a contributor to under-representation in postgraduate research. It cannot be explained by prior attainment and whilst the gap appears to be starting to narrow there is more we must do to accelerate this work.

Other groups also face barriers such as the awarding gap between mature and young students. These issues are mirrored at sector level and there is strength in collective work to address this.

Developing the way in which we embed a sense of belonging among our students and interaction with a curriculum, and wider student experience, which is both inclusive and relevant to all groups of students are some of the ways in which we must address this – with clear targets and collective action.

How can you get involved?

The strategy provides a clear narrative for why change is needed, where we want to get to and how. Our vision is that students from diverse backgrounds will feel they belong, can thrive and are valued for their unique contribution.

To achieve this we will need to move forward to implement the changes outlined and address barriers. But it’s more than a collection of projects or initiatives. Achieving our vision will require intentional and focused work to acknowledge where there are issues, and to listen to and act on the voices of those under-represented.

It is institution-wide at all levels and must be embedded into all that we do - from policies to day-to-day interactions. If you haven’t been in touch already, I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

We have always taken a cross-university, collaborative approach to tackling these vital issues too. And led by Educational Engagement the new strategy was drafted with colleagues from LUU (co-creation with students is vital, as ever) and colleagues across the institution.  

We will need to continue this partnership approach across the institution and I’ve been overwhelmed with the commitment, energy and enthusiasm that the strategy has already generated to date. 

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