Aston University creates pre-university mobility scheme for young people from low participation backgrounds

16 January 2019

Through the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) the Aimhigher Plus team based at Aston University is leading on a targeted intervention at pre-entry students to increase the likelihood of them undertaking these experiences later during higher education.

Despite significant efforts, the UK continues to have some of Europe's lowest outward student mobility participation rates. There are significant gaps in participation between advantaged and less-advantaged groups. In 2016-17 students from higher socio-economic backgrounds were 70% more likely to participate in outward mobility than their peers from lower socio-economic backgrounds. At Aston University, a huge 49.5% of students are from a widening participation background. The project, which works directly with widening participation students, has identified a widespread reluctance to undertake international work placements or to embrace outward mobility experiences. 

After two years of working with students from low participation backgrounds, the Aimhigher Plus project has consistently identified a lack of cultural capital as a barrier to higher education access. In addition, many students are reluctant to leave their immediate surroundings, they often live in insular communities and are attached to 'home comforts'. After successfully carrying out four domestic visits to London and Manchester, the Aston Aimhigher Plus team decided to expand this reach and work with Humboldt University in Berlin. For the students, this partnership showcases the benefits of university and the outward student mobility experience offered by higher education. It is also an opportunity for them to experience a new culture.

This international residential trip provides students with the opportunity to go outside of their comfort zones, broaden their horizons and develop cultural capital. The selected students have never (or only very rarely) left the UK – often due to economic constraints and familial reluctance. The trip aims to develop essential personal attributes within the students, such as confidence, team building, independence and resilience.

'I have never been abroad before, so I am really nervous about stepping outside of my comfort zone but amazed to be part of the project.' (Student Champion)

Using outward mobility as a catalyst for change, this early intervention project uses a targeted approach to identify 30 students who are most likely to benefit from the programme, and significantly, these students may not have considered applying for higher education. All participants are from disadvantaged backgrounds, including students from local authority care, and young carers. Students are required to attend an introductory programme in preparation for the international experience. These pre-sessions will prepare the students by enhancing their cultural awareness, and knowledge of international travel and education. In the pre-sessions, participants will have the opportunity to meet a current student, and a graduate who completed a placement in Berlin in the past few years. 

Aimhigher Plus have utilised networks within the consortia to work closely with Humboldt University in Berlin and have coordinated the itinerary with the StudyLink tour company. This has ensured an immersive and meaningful experience for students, including academic, social and cultural activities. Aimhigher Plus now has 30 confirmed students enrolled on the programme and have begun to deliver information sessions for the February 2019 trip. The Aston Aimhigher Plus team have witnessed the incredible benefit of removing these barriers by funding the trip. We also help parents by assisting and covering the costs of passport applications, as well as supporting students who do not have the appropriate clothing to enjoy Berlin in the winter.

'By the time I return, I hope I have learnt how to order food in German.'
(Student Champion)

On return to the UK, students are expected act as 'international ambassadors' and deliver assemblies in their schools. The students will use reflective journals and video footage to spread the word to their peers on the benefits of international travel and higher education. Each student who took part in the Explore Berlin residential will be invited to a celebration evening, along with their parents.


Pre-university students from widening participation backgrounds rarely have the chance to take part in international experiences. This can often determine their future participation in outward student mobility, and similar opportunities in the UK. The Aimhigher Plus project aims to reduce barriers at a pre-entry stage and enhance students' confidence, resilience and curiosity so that they can participate in these opportunities at a university level.

- George Kearney-Bambridge (NCOP Manager, Aston University)

- Modasar Rasul (Learner Enhancement Officer, Aston University)

- Chloe Hale (NCOP Officer, Aston University)

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