Special celebration of our crucial commitment to widening participation

“Access to Leeds felt like a lighthouse guiding me into the University system. The scheme helped me to feel like I belonged and that I was part of the community at Leeds.”

Pictured (from left) are Susan Preston, Liv Powell, Kieran Launder and Elliot Holmes

Special celebration of our crucial commitment to widening participation. October 2023

Since 2003, Access to Leeds – our contextual admissions programme – has supported more than 10,000 UK undergraduates to register at the University. It’s a crucial part of our commitment to widening participation and improving outcomes for students who come from backgrounds less represented at Leeds.

The programme guarantees additional consideration for prospective students whose personal circumstances might impact their application to the University. The eligibility criteria includes applicants’ home postcode, household income and school. Each case is reviewed individually to make sure circumstances outside the specified criteria are also considered.

In its first year, Access to Leeds received 90 applications and registered 25 students. Two decades on, students who’ve come to the University through the scheme make up 18% of the undergraduate cohort, with more than 8,000 applications received and 1,000 students accepted onto programmes in 2023.

Special celebration of our crucial commitment to widening participation. October 2023

Elliot Holmes, Teaching Fellow and Researcher in Linguistics

Giving back

For some of those students who’ve benefitted from the programme, the story has come full circle.

Elliot Holmes (BA English Language and Linguistics, 2015-18) knew within his first year of studying that he wanted to pursue a career in academia and teaching. Having completed a Masters and PhD, he returned to his undergraduate department as a Teaching Fellow and Researcher in Linguistics – something he believes wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Access to Leeds.

Elliot said: “Access to Leeds felt like a lighthouse, guiding me into the University system. The scheme helped me to feel like I belonged, and that I was part of the community at Leeds.

“The scheme not only helped me into a position where I could find out what my dream job was – it also gave me the tools to pursue it.” 

Elliot is now Undergraduate Admissions Lead, with responsibility for Access to Leeds applicants in the School of Linguistics.

He added: “I’m in a position to give back, so I want to emphasise to students who come through Access to Leeds that you should feel important and you should feel proud of yourself.”

Special celebration of our crucial commitment to widening participation. October 2023

EDI Project Officer Susan Preston

Lived experience

These sentiments are echoed by Access to Leeds alum Susan Preston (BA Geography with Year in Industry, 2017-21), who’s now Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Project Officer in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures.

As well as adjusted entry requirements, Access to Leeds offers applicants a unique, online module. The two-part course introduces core study skills and gives prospective students the opportunity to write a subject-specific assignment, tutored by an academic. Applicants complete this module before beginning their degree, giving them a head start and bridging the gap between their previous studies and higher education. 

Susan said: “My contextual offer reduced the stress of doing my final A Level exams.

“In the online module, I learnt about academic integrity and terminology, and completed an essay with support from a University tutor. I got a first-class grade and I was amazed! When I came to Leeds, I felt so much more confident.”

As an undergraduate, Susan founded the Commuters’ Society, which enables commuter students to connect, while also campaigning for greater inclusion. They now lead on a wide range of EDI projects, including the Faculty’s Athena SWAN Award submission and the EDI Project Awards

Susan added: “Through Access to Leeds, I have a strong sense of empathy with the student population. I bring my lived experience to my work, which is so valuable in EDI projects.”

Special celebration of our crucial commitment to widening participation. October 2023

Plus Programme Administrator Kieran Launder

Impressive achievements

The attainment of students who apply through Access to Leeds is consistently on a par with the overall undergraduate cohort, with 90% achieving a first or 2:1 in 2022. Many progress to further study and other impressive achievements.

For Kieran Launder, pursuing higher education was an intimidating idea.

He said: “I was a high achiever but I didn’t have much self-belief. I didn’t think I was the kind of person who would belong in a university setting.”

But all that changed when Kieran connected with the Access to Leeds team.

He added: “It was a massive reassurance. The scheme showed me I was capable of coming to the University.”

Kieran graduated with first class honours in English Literature. He won the Ripon prize for best undergraduate dissertation, going on to study an MA in Writing for Performance and Publication, working as a scriptwriter with organisations including Leeds Playhouse and Bradford Literature Festival.

Access to Leeds works closely with the Plus Programme, launched in 2014 to provide tailored academic and pastoral support for underrepresented students throughout their time at Leeds. Mentoring opportunities, access to additional funding and community building events ensure students achieve their goals and thrive. 

The Plus Programme is managed by a team of dedicated staff – including Kieran! He’s come full circle and now works as an administrator for the programme, drawing on his personal journey to inform his work.

Kieran said: “My own experience means I’m acutely aware of the particular pressures different groups of students face. This feeds into the work I’m doing as I try to be the most approachable, friendly and empathetic person I can be in my role.”

Special celebration of our crucial commitment to widening participation. October 2023

Plus Programme Officer Liv Powell

Expert advice

Liv Powell (BA International History and Politics, 2016-2019; MA Modern History, 2019-2021) agrees. She applied through Access to Leeds and became a Student Ambassador in her first year. Liv has worked to widen participation at the University ever since, including in her current role as Plus Programme Officer.

She said: “I love having full circle moments when I can advise students who’ve come through Access to Leeds based on my first-hand experience.

“I can recognise the specific support that’s most important to that cohort. For example I struggled with imposter syndrome, so I make sure our Plus Programme events reinforce that it’s normal to feel that way and they deserve to be here.”

With the Plus Programme celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2024, there’ll be double the celebrations next year – watch this space for further information!

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