Access to Higher Education: friends united
Former Access to Higher Education (HE) students can be difficult to track down once they’ve moved on to university courses and into new careers. Invariably, they can be a tremendous source of inspiration, practical advice and reassurance for others thinking of following in their footsteps. They can also offer remarkably useful feedback when you’re developing and reviewing your courses.
How, then, can you make sure that you stay in touch with your former Access to HE students?
Colchester Institute’s Access to HE team came up with an innovative answer to this question by launching an Access to HE Alumni scheme in 2006. Reflecting on the scheme, Sally Wilcox, Access to HE course leader, says: ‘The Alumni scheme grew out of the informal contacts we already had but we wanted to do something more, something that would benefit our prospective, current and former Access to HE students.’
For the last two years, the highlight of the Alumni scheme’s calendar has been an annual Access to HE reunion with light refreshments. Both occasions were a resounding success, with around 70 students attending each one. Sally and her colleagues, together with a small group of former students, organised these social events, which were held at Colchester Institute.
Sally says: ‘We’d been building up our mailing list and so were able to invite students who had taken our course during the last five years. From experience, we knew that some of our very recent Access to HE graduates could be getting cold feet about going to university. So we decided to hold this event in early September, before the start of universities’ terms, because we knew this would give these students the encouragement they needed. Everyone was given a badge with their name and subject area. Former students, some of whom were now studying at university, and others who had completed their degrees, gave presentations on what life was like at university’.
But Sally and her colleagues haven’t just stopped there. They now publish a
bi-annual Alumni newsletter, with the help of current and former students, and operate an Access to HE ‘mentoring scheme’. Each year, students’ HE destinations are published in the newsletter, together with other useful tips and advice. The mentoring scheme puts in touch current Access to HE students, who are thinking of applying to a similar course or university, with former students who have already progressed there.
In recognition of their achievements, in 2007, Sally and her colleagues from Colchester Institute were awarded a Life Changers grant from the University and College Union http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/6/g/ucu_lifechangers07.pdf. The grant has been used to establish the Colchester Institute Access to HE Alumni Fund. This will be supplemented with various fundraising activities to sustain the Alumni scheme.
Have you got an Access to HE success story? Tell us your story by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org