Inside Track | Breaking down barriers to access and student success

Director of Educational Engagement, Louise Banahene, reflects on our achievements in improving access and student success at Leeds, outlines future challenges and explains how you can get involved.

Louise Banahene explains how by working together we can ensure diverse communities can see themselves studying at Leeds, feeling they belong, matter and can thrive

Louise Banahene June 2019

In August 2020, we launched our Access and Student Success Strategy 2025, outlining our priorities to ensure Leeds is a place where our students feel they belong, can thrive and are valued for their unique contribution. It’s central to our University values and it reinforces our longstanding commitment to ensuring that a student’s background and lived experiences are not barriers to access or outcomes.

We started from a strong base, having recruited large numbers of students from under-represented backgrounds and from applying sector-leading approaches and research. And 15 months in, and more than halfway through the first phase of the strategy, there has been a huge amount of progress.

The pandemic has dominated this first stage of implementation, providing both challenges and opportunities, but we’ve still been able to move forward all the priorities outlined in the strategy, meeting 12 of the 14 milestones in the process.


From an access perspective, we’ve built on our extensive outreach programme, including partnerships such as that with IntoUniversity to facilitate progression to undergraduate study. We’ve also refined admissions processes to ensure we recognise and address the barriers to entry for under-represented students.

For postgraduates, we’ve also reviewed the applicant experience and developed plans to increase diversity in postgraduate research. Working with colleagues including Professor Luke Windsor, we’re finalising targets to address under-representation in PhD study.

Student success

In student success, the introduction of our learning analytics system StREAM and ePortfolio system Pebblepad in LeedsforLife provides new opportunities to focus academic personal tutoring and empower our students through personalised data. We’ve also expanded the Plus Programme to enable a wider range of under-represented or minoritised groups to participate. We can already see the positive impact on outcomes, such as continuation and degree awards, that the Plus Programme has on participants. In both cases, we need your help in ensuring our students know about these opportunities and how they can enhance their experience at Leeds.

Students’ experiences of, and relationships with, the curriculum, their peers and staff all contribute to the extent to which they feel they belong. Working with colleagues including Professor Paul Taylor, staff and student communities have come together to develop resources that will shape our approach in areas such as how we embed a sense of belonging, decolonising education and student research internships. Our students have identified improvements they would like to see, and changes already made include the introduction of a commuter student lounge, as recommended by the Commuter Student Society.

Challenges ahead

But there’s more to do. Increasing the number of entrants from under-represented backgrounds at all levels of study requires an increased number of applications and continued review to address barriers at the admissions stage. Whilst we’ve made progress in closing undergraduate and taught postgraduate attainment gaps, the experiences of mature and Black learners are less positive.

Implementation of our institutional inclusive assessment strategy, tackling issues of hidden curriculum and continued work on academic personal tutoring are all areas of focus in the strategy and at the heart of our Curriculum Redefined project. In developing targets and implementing priorities to increase diversity in postgraduate research, colleagues’ support will be instrumental in piloting and developing new approaches. If we can address the barriers experienced by minoritised groups, we will improve outcomes for all. Find out more about this work, access available resources and register for the latest events.

How to get involved

We’re enormously grateful to be able to work alongside a huge number of colleagues and students from across the institution to bring about these changes.

We now need to reach even more colleagues and facilitate discussion, reflection and understanding of the challenges we’re facing. If you’d like to help or participate, do get in touch. Colleagues in Educational Engagement, the Student Success Officers and faculty academic leads can advise how best you can support these initiatives.

Together we can ensure diverse communities can see themselves studying at Leeds, feeling they belong, matter and can thrive.

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