Q&A with Melanie Farquhar, Assistant Project Officer for Access and Articulation

What exactly is RGU doing to increase access to higher educations for learners in underrepresented areas? 

Melanie FarquharRGU is committed to increasing access to higher education for learners from under-represented areas and engages with leaners at various stages of their journey to raise aspiration, provide support and information at key times, and provide access to quality learning experiences to help learners make informed decisions on future career and study choices. 

We work with a number of partners in the region, including SHEP schools and ASPIRENorth, to deliver a number of different initiatives to young people, such as:

An early intervention initiative for S1 and S2 pupils that enables participants to explore a range of further and higher education opportunities and study pathways through interactive workshops in school and on RGU’s campus.

RGU delivers a range of workshops in schools to S1-S6 pupils to raise aspiration, provide information about alternative routes to higher education, provide support with the UCAS application process, as well as practical sessions on revision and study skills and improving resilience.

RGU has a longstanding relationship with North East Scotland College and both institutions are committed to providing flexible pathways into higher education for learners in the region:

  • Articulation

Typically students complete a two-year HND at college before progressing to Stage 3 of an undergraduate degree at RGU. 

A considerable number of applicants from under-represented groups progress to higher education through these pathways and who might not have previously considered degree-level study or met traditional entry requirements.

RGU also works hard to support under-represented groups during the application process through a number of initiatives:

  • Contextualised Admissions

Applicants from under-represented groups are considered through a Contextualised Admissions process which means they receive offers based on the minimum academic entry requirement deemed indicative of successful degree-level study.

RGU offers a range of scholarships specifically for students from under-represented groups which provide financial and practical support for each year of their study.

Can you tell us a bit about the ACES and Access To schemes?

The Access To programmes are a range of subject-focussed programmes for S5/S6 pupils delivered by academic teaching staff on campus over a period of 8-12 weeks which aim to encourage applications from pupils who are traditionally under-represented in higher education.  Participants gain subject knowledge and practical experience as well as information about and support with the application process.  Participants are supported by student ambassadors which allows for peer to peer learning and helps to raise aspiration by learning about the ambassador’s study experiences and personal learning journey.

The programmes are also helpful in preparing applicants for the transition from school to higher education as by the end of the programme they are familiar with the teaching staff and the campus and its facilities.

What are the benefits to the students of following a path like this?

These programmes are hugely beneficial in helping young people make informed career decisions by providing an opportunity to gain practical experience in a subject of their choice and providing an insight into what study at university would be like.  Often attendees will be the first in family to consider higher education and coming onto campus each week and engaging with academic staff and students really helps to break down barriers and let them know that higher education is a viable option for them.  During the programme, participants receive information about the application process and are made aware of the different pathways to higher education, such as studying first at college and progressing to RGU through Degree Link.

As well as gaining valuable experience in the subject, which helps to strengthen their UCAS application, participants of Access To programmes are also eligible to be considered under the Contextualised Admissions process.

What type of support do we offer – from application through to graduation, and after? 

In addition to the support offered via the Access To programmes, RGU engages with young people in schools by delivering a range of workshops aimed at supporting them through the application process, such as providing information about the UCAS process and making personal statements; Confidence & Communication – skills for uni, skills for life; and Employability and Transitions. 

RGU offers a huge amount of support to applicants from under-represented groups, and each year the Access and Articulation Team personally contacts each applicant who meet our Wider Access criteria to make them aware of the support that is available to them, and to answer any questions they might have about coming to study at RGU.  Applicants from under-represented groups can claim financial support to travel for selection interviews or to attend Applicant Days, and receive an enrolment pack once they have enrolled at the university which includes vouchers for books and groceries as well as travel support for the first semester.

We offer a substantial discount on university accommodation to applicants who meet certain criteria, such as those who are Care Experienced or come from the most deprived areas in Scotland.

RGU has published its Corporate Parenting Strategy, and in line with this has a dedicated staff member who acts as a point of contact for care experienced students.

RGU operates an early intervention scheme, Here for You, which aims to support students during the transition period by contacting under-represented groups during the first few weeks of their studies to check they are settling in to their course and direct them to relevant support services should it be required. 

Once fully enrolled at the university, under-represented groups have the same access to the Study Support Team which offers a range of academic support including 1-1 appointments; group appointments; writing clinics; drop-in sessions; and access to the substantial study skills resources which are available on Moodle.  However, under-represented groups receive regular communications during the first semester to remind them of the support available to them.

What would be your advice to someone sitting on the fence, not quite sure whether or not to pursue further education? 

If someone was thinking about pursuing higher education, I would advise them to get in touch with the university to discuss their options.  If possible, try and speak to the course leader of any courses you might be interested in, and find out all you can about the course, and if possible, try to arrange a visit to view the facilities.  Failing that, speak to any friends or family about their experiences of studying.

What can a typical day in your role look like?

I am very lucky in that my job is extremely varied and I get to work with lots of different academic and support staff across the university, as well as external partners, to develop quality programmes for young people and students coming from college.  Working directly with young people is very satisfying and I am often out and about meeting potential students at careers fairs and events, talking about opportunities available to them and helping them to make informed decisions about their future.

Are there any moments in the job which you specifically look back on with pride?

I am particularly proud of my involvement in the Access to Creative Education in Scotland (ACES) programme as you can get to know the participants well over a period of time and it is really exciting when you see them on campus as students and know that you have played a part is supporting their journey to higher education.

Likewise, it is really satisfying to meet articulating students who attended DegreePrep Programmes around campus and hear how their studies are progressing.