My work with Cardiff Metropolitan University’s Widening Access team was incredibly rewarding, firstly as a Widening Access Officer and then as a more project management focused Community Engagement Officer. As a Widening Access Officer my role was to support the delivery and co-ordination of outreach learning opportunities. All the courses were linked to the academic areas of the university and reflected those required by the community. Courses such as Introduction to Complementary Therapies, So You Think You Can’t Draw, Upcycling with Stitch, Health & Social Care and Housing Studies were incredibly effective at inspiring learners and provided a free, no-risk opportunity to try something new. More recently these were built on by offering accredited learning at Level 3 (A Level or Access level) where successful students could get a real feel and foothold into university education.
Throughout my time at Cardiff Met I co-ordinated the annual Summer School for adult learners. At the start there was just the one week of provision and by the time I left it ran for more than 3 weeks, had almost 30 courses with 300 places, including accredited learning, and included dedicated How to Apply to University sessions.
In working with non-traditional adult learners we often had to find other solutions to common problems. For example, learners for whom English is not their first language, but who would like to come to university need to prove their academic English ability. Typically this would be an IELTS score of 6.0 (equivalent of an English GCSE grade C) or above. Cardiff has high numbers of migrants, such as asylum seekers and refugees who have strong subject specific backgrounds but cannot afford the £200 IELTS test fee, never mind the cost of tuition, meaning they are precluded from accessing higher education. With Widening Access we offered free academic English tuition and a free IELTS equivalent test, for entry into Cardiff Met. Also, and equally importantly, we were unconcerned with a learner’s residency status (UK or EU citizen, refugee or asylum seeker). This unique programme has been running successfully for a number of years.
Firstly as a Widening Access Officer and then Community Engagement Officer I worked closely with the refugee and asylum seeker communities through partnership projects with both Oasis and Trinity refugee support centres. Both ran the IELTS programme through Widening Access at different times. At Trinity I ran a Event Management course, which also focused on learning English, as a way to upskill the users to raise funds for the Trinity Centre. You can read more about the project here. The commitment of myself and the Widening Access team to supporting refugees and asylum seekers, and their experiences, can be seen by a previous blog post here.
My work with these groups and the people who access their vital services informed Cardiff Met’s decision to pursue University of Sanctuary status. As part of a strategic review of the University’s direction I was successful in lobbying for the University to offer a Sanctuary Award for asylum seekers to come to Cardiff Met at no cost. Although only a small award at first, it was a significant change to be able to urge the university to make. You can read more about the programme here.