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The students tackling inequality in education

Words by Smiley Team

Experiences of university vary widely for people of different backgrounds. While the children of university graduates will have much better chances of succeeding, those who are the first in their family to attend university are more likely to drop out.

To overcome this stark inequality, students at the University of Sussex in Brighton, stepped up to create a supportive community for their peers. Among them was 23-year-old Anastasia Obi, studying International Relations with Anthropology, and her classmate from Anthropology, 21-year-old Natasha Jenks.

“I think there is an assumption that everyone comes into higher education with the same tools to succeed. But that's not necessarily the case,” Anastasia tells Smiley News.

Natasha adds: “It's frustrating to see that there are so many students who feel they're underrepresented and need more support.”

Together with several other students passionate about equality, the pair set about remedying this problem by launching a student society dedicated to equality in education, called First Generation Campaign

[Read about other endeavours to challenge inequalities in society, education and access to vital goods and services]

At the time, the university had just withdrawn the offer of a scholarship for first-generation Masters students. So it seemed apt that their first move was to ask the student body to vote on whether it should be reinstated.

In response, 92% of students voted with a resounding “yes” to the demand, requiring the student union to lobby the university to reintroduce the vital financial support for less privileged Masters students.

Since this early success, they’ve taken further steps to close the education gap between pupils, building up a supportive network of those who may have difficulty achieving their full potential for a variety of reasons.

“We started a group chat, ran socials, led outreach drives and took to social media,” Anastasia recounts. “This was all to create a community of people who identify as first-generation scholars.”

Additionally, they launched a blog and partnered with a career support initiative, the Bright Network, as well as university alumna. With their help, they provided invaluable advice to students about how to find work after university.

[Get inspired by more positive news about initiatives supporting people and planet]

One discovery the society made through talking to their peers is that very few first-generation students actually realise they fit this category, Anastasia explains.

To clarify the concept, Natasha adds: “First-gen usually means you’re the first in your family to go to university or your parents didn't go to university.

“However, we've broadened that term within our society to mean people who are neurodiverse, refugees, ex carers, or just anyone who doesn't identify as being the typical student who finds it easier to succeed.”

Already the society is seeing some positive impacts as a result of their efforts. They say they have supported students in applying for jobs via the Bright Network, and one student managed to gain a place on a junior researcher associates programme over the summer - a brilliant opportunity to develop important skills.

Inspired to act?

DONATE: To help more disadvantaged students to thrive at university, donate to equal education charity Access.

SUPPORT: Directly help students reach their full potential regardless of their background. Become a volunteer tutor for Access.


This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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