Universify Education

Opening access to education

A university education should be available to anyone with the academic ability – regardless of their background. But young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are often put off applying.

When they do, they tend to go for universities or courses that are lower demand and lower quality than they’re capable of, rather than the highly selective universities. One reason is they’re worried they’ll feel out of place when they get there. Universify Education is changing attitudes and preconceptions. The charity wants universities to enjoy the benefits of greater diversity while empowering students from non-traditional backgrounds to feel excited by their future in education.

“This programme is helping to change young people’s perceptions of university,” says Soma, Kusuma Trust’s Executive Trustee. “Universify Education’s research showed that students replaced ideas of university as ‘busy’ and ‘stressful’, with the idea that it was a place of ‘independence’ and ‘learning’.”

Soma also recognises that it’s not just potential students that benefit. “There’s so much for universities to gain from having the input of young people from diverse backgrounds involved in their student community,” she says.

  • Universify identified three barriers to students from non-traditional backgrounds applying for highly selective universities: low educational aspiration, limited academic attainment, and fear of being out of place.
  • 84% of lead teachers agreed that Universify benefited GSCE attainment.
  • Following the programme, there was a 67% increase in students “very likely” to apply to a highly-selective university.

An insight into higher education

Universify runs a year-long programme with three key elements:

1. A week-long summer course at the University of Oxford giving students a taste of university life and helping them feel more comfortable in a university environment. There are a range of academic classes offering an insight into higher education.

2. Monthly academic coaching – one-to-one session with trained Universify coaches to help students set out their academic goals and work out how they can achieve them.

3. A three-day GCSE-focused Easter residential at Oxford to focus on core subjects (maths, English and sciences) in preparation for their upcoming GCSEs. Participants also get information about follow-on programmes and potential careers.

Our grant in 2018 helped support 79 students at risk of not fulfilling their potential in education to take part in the Universify programme.

We gave a second grant of £9,962 in 2020 to cover all the costs of the 2021 Easter programme for 51 students from London. The Easter programme has been extended by a day to make up for the fact the summer 2020 residential couldn’t go ahead because of COVID-19 and was delivered online instead.

In June 2022, we awarded a further grant of £5,000 to help Universify improve their data gathering, so they can create a more detailed picture of their programme’s long-term impact. They’ll also capture powerful student stories and outcomes to make their case for funding and partnerships with universities even more compelling.

“I really enjoyed the programme. It was such an eye-opening experience for me. I would say the most beneficial part was the Easter weekend just before our exams. We got put in revision classes of our choice with specialist subject teachers. This was crucial to have, especially just before my GCSEs, as it allowed me to fill the gaps in my knowledge and prepared me more for the final exams.”
Nathan, 2018-19 Universify participant, who's now applying to Oxford University

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