Enabling Equal Access to Opportunity in a Research-led Teaching and Learning Environment

Wednesday 3 October 2018, 12.30pm to 2.00pm

Speaker: Matthew Ingram, Office of Philanthropic Partnerships and Alumni, University of York
Location: Room HG/21, Heslington Hall, Campus West

Workshop Summary

Research-led teaching and learning clearly has the potential to offer students the chance to achieve incredible things as part of their studies – it might enable students to place themselves at the forefront of research discourses, to develop as independent and entrepreneurial thinkers, and to challenge the very latest thinking.

The challenge in hand, however, is ensuring that this potential is open to all students, and that students, regardless of their socio-economic background and family support, have the same access to materials and resources that will aid research-led teaching and learning? In this session, members of the Office of Philanthropic Partnerships and Alumni will discuss ways in which we can level the playing field when opening up opportunities for students to learn through research. Using its suite of student-focused fundraising programmes, this workshop aims to demonstrate how:

  • departments can encourage students to fundraise for activities that support their research;
  • the Office of Philanthropic Partnerships and Alumni can support students in their fundraising;
  • fundraising can bridge the gap between undergraduate and postgraduate levels of study, and how;
  • embedding fundraising into curricula can encourage the development of transferable skills that will boost the employability prospects of your students.

Hearing first-hand from students and departments that have already benefited from our support, this workshop will give attendees the chance to engage in a dialogue about the systemic pressures facing many students in a research-led learning environment, and how we can take practical steps to ensure that access to opportunity remains open to all.

Workshop Report

by session chair, Ben Poore

Matt’s workshop set out to explain and explore the need for equal access to opportunity in a research-led teaching and learning environment. He went on to identify ways in which philanthropy can enable equal access to opportunity and to show how the process of securing philanthropic support can complement academic and professional skill development.

Matt began by setting out the context, noting that the Welsh Government’s Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance Arrangements in Wales (also known as the Diamond Review) had highlighted in 2016 that the inadequacy of maintenance support was acting as a barrier to widening participation. In addition, the 2018 NUS report Class Dismissed: Getting in and getting on in further and higher education noted that field trips and extra-curricular activities were often beyond the means of working-class students. So, there was a sense that the news focus on tuition fees was obscuring a cost-of-living problem among students from lower-income families. There’s a danger, therefore, that these students may be missing out on the full range of learning opportunities in the university environment.

In his presentation, Matt then outlined some of the current interventions being made at York to address this problem. These include library-led initiatives such as the MoreBooks scheme, the removal of charges for inter-library lending, and trips to the British Library Reading Room at Boston Spa. There are also department-led schemes such as assigning project budgets for coursework, and international travel bursaries as well as the Laidlaw Research and Leadership Scholarship, which supports undergraduate research. However, Matt particularly wanted to highlight the work of YuStart, the UK’s first University-specific crowdfunding site, enabling York students and staff to digitally fundraise for projects. Since January 2014, YuStart has hosted 131 projects, and has raised over £180,000 for staff and student projects; it boasts 95% funding success rate. Matt explained that YuStart prides itself on student-centred approach, aiming to provide students with funding, skills and an entrepreneurial spirit. Unlike other crowdfunding sites, YuStart offers a fully dedicated resource to train, mentor and support students from beginning to end, and has a collaborative approach to making YuStart work for courses and departments. There’s also a match-funding element; for every pound pledged on projects, YuStart may be able to ‘unlock’ further funding. It also offers the chance for students to use their projects to connect with and secure support from alumni.

As an example of successful practice, Matt talked us through YuStart’s work with third-year students in TFTV working on short film projects as part of the BSc in Film and Television Production. They completed their third collaboration with YuStart in 2017/18. The scheme in this case involved a bespoke one-hour fundraising training session for the cohort, support tailored to each project group, and a £2,500 fundraising limit to ensure fairness across the group film production projects. The result was a 100% success rate: all the films were funded. YuStart is also open to taught and research postgraduates; students can self-refer or be referred by a supervisor.

In concluding, Matt suggested several measures that could further tackle the issue of equal access, such as introducing a reserved pot of departmental funding that students can ‘bid’ for; expanding or further promoting schemes such as the Laidlaw Scholarship programme; and having more rank discussions on research funding earlier in a student’s academic career. In the discussion that followed, the workshop group talked about the similarities and differences between YuStart and YuFund. YuFund gives grants to innovative and worthwhile projects run by student clubs and societies, departments and colleges, and is funded by gifts from York alumni and friends. YuStart, by contrast, is the University’s crowdfunding platform.

Reflecting on the issues that Matt had discussed, I considered whether the Theatre programmes in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television could take further steps to encourage equal access. We already subsidise theatre trips for our students, and have recently begun making greater use of the University’s Storey Collection to inform research-led teaching at Masters level. Organisations such as Arts Emergency and Ardent Theatre Company are directly addressing questions of access and equality in the theatre industry. Perhaps there are lessons we can learn from them about taking further steps towards an inclusive, outward-looking learning environment.

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