Widening Access blog

Regular blog on all things Widening Access at Cardiff Metropolitan University

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Meeting a Murderer

The following post was originally published on the EPALE (Electronic Platform for Electronic Learning) Blog.

Jamie Grundy, Community Engagement Officer from the Widening Access team at Cardiff Metropolitan University, shares learned experiences gained in the field of prison education as part of EPALE February focus on the benefits of Adult Education.

At a recent education and training event in a prison I asked the wrong question to a prisoner who was interested in attending a course we are going to be running shortly for a substance misuse education programme. I meant to ask if he was serving a sentence involving drugs or substance misuse. Instead I asked him what he was sentenced for. He told me:

“Murder. Joint enterprise.”
I was with colleagues from my university and we all were stopped in our tracks. You don’t often hear those words from a person’s mouth.

The reason I tell you this story is not to sensationalise prison education, but instead to raise two issues. Firstly, with prison education you will meet people who have been sentenced for the mistakes and choices made in their life that have led them down a path to this point. And while the above example really did ram home this point in a particularly unsubtle fashion, what was heartening was that the experience did not dissuade my colleagues from continuing to be involved. Instead we talked about it, what Joint Enterprise meant, and I took responsibility for a simple inarticulate mistake that effected us all.

The second issue is about learning from your experiences – something prisoners are doing everyday as a result of their incarceration. To me the above example introduces the importance of recognising one’s learning style, it relates directly to my own experience of facilitating prison education. Kolb’s theory on Experiential Learning talks about learning from experience. The example above is something we all learnt from because, with the prisoners I have met, I am careful not to exercise any morbid curiosity and search for them and their crimes online. I put faith in the system that yes they’ve done something wrong, but I try to offer an opportunity around higher education for when they leave prison or are released on licence (ROTL ). I have dealt with prejudices from colleagues (not those above) who look instead only at the crime: not the time served, the journey since the offence, the education taken or the person behind the prisoner label. They are a long way from understanding the societal benefits of adult education with offenders and ex-offenders.

Kolbs Accommodators

Exploration of Kolb presents four learning styles of Experiential Learning and one is particularly relevant here: Accommodators.

Whilst there are three other types of learning style, each equally valid, that will no doubt be present amongst learners, Accommodators are those ones who learn best when they are fully involved, are intuitive problem solvers, get their information from others, and are the strongest when they are actively doing or participating in an activity. Most tutors will be aware either formally or informally of different learners learning best in different ways, however I would argue that education in prison, is one big example of an Accommodator Experiential Learning style.

In terms of my own learning style I also recognise in myself the attributes of the Accommodator. I’m practically minded looking to solve problems rather than give up. I learn best by having a go and if it doesn’t work out, reflecting and learning from that experience for next time. I didn’t study education, social sciences or criminology. I’m a sports graduate working in a non-sports field, so I’m using the transferable skills that particularly team sports gives you, to create a support network around the students I mentor. But I do this not necessarily following a model of good practice, but instead responding to needs as they are occur, because for Cardiff Met this is relatively unchartered waters. That said, and reflecting on the team analogy, we draw upon expert advice such as the Prison Education Trust (PET), PRisoN Network, student finance experts and, crucially, the Education and Resettlement staff in HMP Prescoed, our closest Category D prison with whom we have signed an agreement to admit students on license with us. The close links with experts in the field such as PET has been invaluable and with them we have completed a number of projects, such as a Learner Handbook; a Product Design student project to design a study resource and emerging plans to host a best practice sharing event with Goldsmiths Open Book project.

Moodboard example from third year Cardiff Met Cardiff Product Design students who transform the study materials box from Prisoners Education Trust into something with more than one function.

All the current and former prisoners I’ve got to know have had to navigate a path through Prison Service Instructions, general prison applications, education and / or resettlement issues, UCAS applications, student finance, lack of access to IT and more to get into higher education. And that’s not even mentioning negative comments and attitudes from fellow prisoners, prison staff, admissions tutors, etc. which is more common than we’d like to think. There’s no guide that I’ve found yet on how to do things, although we are in the early stages of developing one with PET’s pilot Welsh project. They progress despite of, not necessarily because of, the system. They’ve all learnt as they’ve gone along and in most cases, their desire to proceed into higher education following prison was a seed that blossomed only while serving their sentence and experienced positive experiences from the programmes they pursued inside – a clear measure of success.


EPALE’s thematic week on Prison Education in 2016 was about evaluating success and the different measures that providers use. Progression opportunities and the qualitative impact that further education can provide is one such measure; especially case studies to show others that they can do it too. Recidivism is also a measure and in my role I currently support a small cohort of students who include serving prisoners attending university on ROTL and former prisoners who have studied at Cardiff Met following their release. In our discussions with them I stress they are here on merit and are students first and foremost. I ensure they are treated the same as other students with the same rights, responsibilities and freedoms that this comes with. The only difference (not withstanding any specific restrictions on their individual ROTL conditions) is their unique halls of residence which they go back to each night. They all understand that to me success is in their ability not to reoffend. Education plays a part in this but so too does their ability to form good relationships with their tutors and their student cohort. Students do drop out of university for valid reasons, and although this hasn’t happened yet with those I support, if one dropped out for personal reasons I’d support them.

There are still difficulties along the way but slowly we are knocking the hurdles over one by one, which will only help future learners coming along this path to Cardiff Met or any other university. We’ve done it linking with partners and experts in their field and crucially by learning from our experience.


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I’m mentoring an ex-prisoner through university


The following blog originally appeared on the Prison Education Trust Good Practice – Learner Stories webpage. 

“I’ve always viewed the perceived success of Rhys’s experience as his ability not to reoffend […] for me it’s about offering higher education as a way to develop yourself personally, professionally and socially.”

Jamie Grundy is the Community Engagement Officer for Cardiff Metropolitan University’s Widening Access team. His mentee, Rhys, tells his story here.

In Cardiff Met Widening Access we work with non-traditional adult learners. This is a broad definition and can include a multitude of people, including learners from an offending background. Our work in this particular sector neatly coincides with the time I’ve been mentoring Rhys with his education – from about spring 2017.
I first met Rhys when we ran some business skills training for the front-of-house staff at the Clink Cardiff restaurant and he told us was due to be released shortly from HMP Prescoed and wanted to attend university. He was apprehensive about applying and disclosing his convictions. Together with another university, I was able to set up meetings with the necessary admissions tutors to put a face, a person and a context to the application. He was advised that a science Access course would be a best first step prior to application, to give him the necessary lab experience he did not have.

While he was studying at college I met him several times to see how he was settling in, check how he was finding the transport, that kind of thing. I also got him a decommissioned laptop through IT to give him the chance to do work at home. Following the Access course he eventually he decided to apply (and was accepted on to) a BSc Biomedical Sciences programme with Cardiff Met. The university said that a condition of his acceptance with us was that he met with me on a regular basis. There’s no official support in place beyond what the university offers any other student like Rhys, as it would then be open to offering support which is not available to other students and could be seen as giving him preferential treatment, so it’s been informal mentoring – sometimes regular and sometimes less regular. Although supporting his education only, there have been times where issues in his personal life have impacted on his study – just like any other student.

The support has been reciprocal too as I’ve been studying on an MA Education programme and have been able to use Rhys’s experience for a couple of my modules – with his permission of course. I’ve always viewed the perceived success of Rhys’s experience as his ability not to reoffend, not necessarily his continued attendance on his course – although I know others in my university would disagree. But for me it’s about offering higher education as a way to develop yourself personally, professionally and socially.
Rhys now has stable part time employment in a hospital lab directly related to his Biomedical Science degree. He is in a stable relationship, is a father and no longer spends time with the people who led him towards a prison sentence. Although I did not know him prior to his prison term, all the indications are that he grown up immeasurably during his time studying in prison and in further and higher education.

To prisons and universities considering how they can better support and encourage people like Rhys to access higher education, they might be surprised to learn that both institutions share similar characteristics. Universities move slowly, and if you want to do a project and you miss your window then you might have to wait until the next academic year before trying again. Similarly prisons move incredibly slowly and keep in mind their role around public protection at all times – no risks or chances are taken. Universities are the embodiment of silo mentality with academic schools working in isolation. And prisons in my experience are the same: one department may not necessarily be talking to another so the onus is on you to ensure this happens. Don’t rely on it – persist with your communication efforts in a nice and benign way and doors will open. Often because (eventually) they can see and share in the tangible successes that can result.

Rhy’s experience has shown that prison education, colleges and universities can offer life-changing opportunities for learners like him. His journey with Cardiff Met has informed the staff in the department I work in but also other departments, such as admissions and student services. It’s also led to the university accepting learners on ROTL [release on temporary licence] – something unthinkable until recently. It has led to Cardiff Met being prepared to take a chance/a risk on learners like Rhys, simply by giving them an opportunity to be like any other student: by helping them reintegrate into society and all the responsibilities and rights this encompasses.

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Blog it. Tweet it. Email it. Say it.

Why how you say it is just as important as what you say.

I write this post a couple days after I attended the Values workshop as part of the recently launched Strategic Conversations being carried out across the university to inform the new Strategic Plan. This time has given me time to reflect after returning to my normal job in Widening Access. (I say normal but every day is different. This week I’ve been in prison, in a refugee shelter and in an art studio for example – and this week’s been relatively quiet!)

The views of staff are being sought on areas across the university and while other blogs will pick apart the results and pore over the findings, I wanted to say something about the process. Perhaps it’s my background in community development, but sometimes getting people involved is of equal importance to what you find out. Because if you ask for their opinions and act on them, they will take ownership of the change that you want to see happen. Just look at fan owned football clubs, community co-operatives or any worker buyouts such as Tower Colliery, for example.

Tower – the 'pit that wouldn't die'  Image result for exeter city

Tower Colliery & Exeter City Football Club – two examples of community ownership.

The importance of the process was the main thing that struck me from the Values session I attended. It was simply that this was different from anything that I’ve been involved in before. Since my employment here I’ve seen two Olympics and only once have I been involved in any large Cardiff Met departmental meeting where I can suggest ideas and hear what other people are saying. In other words, for me, the Olympics have happened more than these kind of things come along! With luck I’ll be involved in the 2017 sessions too.

Acknowledging the difference in culture the Strategic Conversations are bringing to the debate, the very fact that two senior members of staff – a Dean and Director – both facilitated the session showed how seriously their findings are being taken. I am an experienced facilitator of community participation and consultation activities. If the participants think they will not be listened to then people will not be engaged and you will not get very good results. In my workshop, the polar opposite took place. The energy of both facilitators was infectious and the findings presented was impressive.


Image result for hiv reduction usa

Community involvement in the fight against HIV and Aids is seen as vital in lowering infection rates in Africa.

The cross section of the participants was encouraging to see also – not the usual suspects and not just the ones who shout loudest being heard. Staff, student reps, support staff, academics from top to bottom of the pay scales were in the room as equals working towards a common goal.

In fact the whole activity reminded me very much of my experience in working in community development for a large social housing provider in Devon & Cornwall. The bedrock of their activities is tenant involvement from their board, down to regional housing teams, to service improvement panels and all the way down to mystery shoppers. The views of tenants is sought, acted upon, and evidenced – and this is something they are audited on.

Image result for social housing     Image result for rhondda housing

Housing Associations are an example of how asking your users can lead to service improvements.

The idea behind involvement of your tenants, service users, staff, students or stakeholders is so that the organisation can understand what’s going on and take ownership. People from these groups can come along and have their say, meet the decision makers and even become a decision maker. The sense of importance here, in exercising one’s democratic views and personal perspective is not to be under estimated. It takes a lot to come forward and say what you feel needs to be said. That’s why I believe the process of the Strategic Conversations is just as important as the findings. You are not sat in a committee room with a scary chair –person and a wondering if you belong and when to speak. You are sat with colleagues writing your views down on post its, working on flip charts, sharing opinions, agreeing and disagreeing as you go – which is all fine. There were quiet people in my group; there were loud people in my group. All contributed because they know their views matter.

I would therefore urge anyone not sure about getting involved or wondering if it is for them, to simply get involved. We, as the constituent staff members of this university need to put our views forward. Now is our time to be heard.

Blog it. Tweet it. Email it. Say it.


(This blog also appears on the Cardiff Met Strategic Conversations website, 2016.)

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Aqsa Forges Ahead

The following blog originally appeared in the Winter 2016 publication “Watch This Space”, the newsletter for Cardiff & Vale Community Learning Partnership learners. It has been reproduced here to give further exposure to the learning journey and to inspire others. Also important to note are the number of additional partners involved to help support a student’s education.

Student, Aqsa Ahmed-Hussein, describes how attending adult learning courses has made a big difference to her life.


At the end of the summer term, Kath, my Counselling Skills tutor informed me of an open day at Cardiff Metropolitan University. There were many interesting subjects but due to family commitments I was only able to attend the Widening Access introduction day and a 2 day accredited course on Reflective Skills. I received a certificate for attending and there was an option to complete a 3000 word portfolio where we could apply our newly learnt reflective skills to a recent learning experience. I wanted to write about the Managing Children’s Behaviour course I had attended with Cardiff Council ACL (Adult Community Learning) and my experiences as a volunteer at Lansdowne Nursery. Sadly my father became very ill and passed away so I forgot all about the portfolio until I bumped into Kath again. After a long heartfelt chat I realised that the one reason for continuing my adult education was because my dad had been so proud of my achievements over the past couple of years. I eventually completed my portfolio with a mark of 74% which was a distinction!! My children were so proud of me, but they didn’t seem surprised, as they had so much faith in me compared to my faith in myself! All the courses I have attended have given me a real boost in my confidence and made me realise that I am able to do anything that I put my mind to!

In September I started a Level 2 Teachers Assistant course and I am also continuing my ECDL course (European Computer Drivers Licence). I feel this is just the beginning. I hope to continue in my adult education journey and as a result make a positive contribution to my local community, get a good job and set a good example for my children.

As I have recently learned you never know how much time you have left so make the best use of it while you are able to do so. I would urge all adults to continue with their education.

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It’s the final countdown…!!

Continuing our recent theme of guest blogs, the following post is from Cardiff Met’s School and Colleges Team who support and help prepare students for their decisions after school or college. For anyone thinking about applying to Cardiff Met in January, they have put together a handy list of important points to consider.

Image result for europe the band

(Not the university’s Schools & College Team!) 

When we say the Final Countdown, no we are not referring to the famous Europe song – we mean the UCAS Deadline Day!

The official UCAS deadline of 15th January is getting closer and closer so applications should be near to completion. Here is a check list to make sure it will be done in time;

Research! Make sure you have looked in to the course that you want to apply for. This includes the modules that are on offer, the entry requirements, assessment, teaching methods and placement opportunities. Why not look up the course online and ring the programme director to talk to them. This put a name to an application and will reassure you that the course you want to study is right for you. Before you call get a pen and pad and take down any points you think are useful or worth remembering. Also prepare a list of questions you’d like to ask. Don’t think a question is too basic to ask. The chances are other people also want to know the same answer as you.

Do you meet the criteria? It is important to ensure that your chosen course is a realistic choice and that you will be able to meet the entry requirements. This will include certain qualifications, work experience and skills. Often these will need to be mentioned in your personal statement. Contact the university’s admissions team who can give you simple and clear direction on your eligibility for the course you’d like to pursue.

Visit visit visit! In order to make sure the university is right choice you need to make sure you visit the university. This way you will be able to see for yourself what the course is like, meet the lecturers, chat to current students, visit the facilities and get a ‘feel for the place’. An open day will give you a lot more information than reading a prospectus. But make sure you book your place as they fill up soon!Open Days at Cardiff Met

Is it the right university for you? It is important to feel confident that you are happy about where and what you have chosen to apply for. After all, you could be spending a number of years studying it so it has to be the right choice! We have two campuses: Cyncoed & Llandaff, both with very different vibes.

Check out the film of our Virtual Campus Tour 

Maximise your choices! Applicants have 5 choices when applying to university and we highly recommend to use all 5 choices to maximise your chance of a place at university. Remember, you need to make sure the 5 choices are similar as you can only submit 1 personal statement that will go to all 5 university choices.

Finalise the statement! The personal statement is one of the most important parts of the application process so needs a lot of time and thought in order to complete it well. It is vital to make sure that you have mentioned relevant experience, your enthusiasm and an interest in your chosen course. Remember no copying as all personal statements go through plagiarism detection technology!

One last check! Make sure you are happy with your UCAS application and all details have been inputted in correctly. It can be easy to miss a letter or put in the wrong information so it is always best to triple check. Friends and family can be your second pair of eyes to make sure everything is correct.

Image result for spell check

Once all of these have completed then you will be ready to click the ‘submit’ button and then it is a case of waiting patiently for the university replies.

It is worth noting that although the official UCAS deadline is 15th January we do encourage applicants to submit their applications a lot earlier for oversubscribed programmes. You can still submit applications after 15th January, however, it will be classed as a ‘late applicant’ which could jeopardise your place as the course may already be full. In other words it is a lot better to summit early and get the applications in rather than leaving it to the last minute!

For any extra help with completing the UCAS application then please visit www.ucas.com

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Bawso’s Women only Community Gym – Clarence House, Cardiff Bay

The work we work we do in Cardiff Met touches the lives of lots of different people in many different ways. Although in Widening Access we have previously worked with Bawso, this article shows how other staff in the university are working with Bawso to transform the lives of people in community.

The following article is a guest post by Anthony Thomas of Sport Cardiff and it shows some great work to help support the development of a safe space for women to exercise, in partnership with different community partners.

bawso Print




Bawso applied to Cardiff Met and Sport Cardiff to help with funding for gym inductions. Meetings took place to discuss a way forward. The project scope was to apply for funding to train a local woman of the community, on a voluntary basis, as Gym Instructor Level 2 and Circuits Level 2.

Bawso worked with Sport Cardiff and BRG Communities First, and applied for the KickStart Grant. Bawso was able to secure funding for training, sports equipment for classes and a Cardiff Met Gym Instructor to induct the backlog of 50 new members on the waiting list.

In September 2015, we advertised, interviewed and trained our female Voluntary Gym Instructor; the project has been a success for community users, Bawso Staff and has had an impact on the survivors of domestic abuse. With the help of the gym, Bawso staff completed the half marathon this year raising £11,500. Reception staff advertise in the community via posters and mailshots and events and they co-ordinate the inductions. And Sport Cardiff and Cardiff Met have helped Bawso by donating a Treadmill to replace the existing.

Since 2015 Bawso have inducted over 70 women to use the gym and to date, there are over 150 gym members . From April 2016 they have raised £1,800 by charging a small amount for usage, to contribute towards maintenance costs and fund raise for Bawso women service users with no recourse to public funds. All the clients are aged between 16 and 56 and live locally.

The difference that this has made to people has been clear to see and the following are a selection of some of the comments received:
“I live locally and am now able to use Bawso’s gym to keep up my fitness in a private and women only environment”
“I felt at ease with (the tutor), she is a real inspiration and offered me a lot of help and advice with my fitness and diet plan”
“I attend Bawso’s gym regularly, as it’s a small cost, I can continue to work out during school hours and feel comfortable in a women only environment”
“The gym at Bawso has helped me with my recovery as a service user”


The gym gets ready for its new users

For more info about the programme email Anthony Thomas.

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A Refugee learner journey

The following post is from a 33 year old Refugee and Widening Access student who is currently studying several Level 3 modules with Cardiff Met as part of our outreach programme. *

This person has kindly let us tell his story, to inspire other Refugees and Asylum Seekers who want to learn and improve their education, and as part of the positive and important stories being told during Refugee Week

It’s a little bit different to home here. I left there one and a half years ago and I had to leave my wife and children back home, they are not here yet. When I left it was a big decision and things were very bad. Initially I went across neighbouring countries then travelled on to neighbouring countries through into Europe before arriving in the UK. The Home Office assigned me to Cardiff when I was in the removal centre for two or three days in Haslar Immigration Removal Centre. I could have gone anywhere in the UK, but I came to Cardiff and I feel very lucky.

At home I studied science and I worked in this field for ten years. I studied in the English language, rather than in Tigrinya which is my first language, and people say I have good English language skills and good handwriting. I would like to do more but I do not always have the time. Two weeks ago I started work as a lab analyst. This is very similar to work I did back home.

At first I didn’t know anything about the UK or Wales in particular. I asked some of the staff in the Removal Centre and they told me they speak another language there: Welsh! I thought oh no, not another language. But when I came here I discovered everybody speaks English as well so it’s ok. I try to speak a little Welsh too, so I can say Croeso.

I came here with four other people who were taken to Haslar. One was assigned to another city but the other two are studying ESOL. When I first arrived here because I could already speak English so I was able to communicate well. I stayed for two months in a large shared accommodation, before moving into a shared flat in the Heath (an area of Cardiff) with three others. Once I got my Refugee status and was permitted to work, I was told to leave because the flat belongs to the Home Office. I have now moved to another area where there is a big student population.

I get support from other organisations. For example, at the Trinity Refugee Centre I got a great deal of information and met other people, plus I did lots of courses with them at first to keep myself busy. Here I became a member an asylum seekers and refugee seekers forum part and I was able to find out about courses we could take.

When I was an asylum seeker I was not allowed to work. The only choice you have is to stay in the house and do nothing or choose to learn – so I choose to do as many courses as I can. You don’t notice the time as much then, plus you can gain a lot of knowledge and the certificates to prove it. It broadened my knowledge and my horizons by studying lots of things outside my specific area, for example doing business courses. You also meet lots of new people so it’s really good.

Even as an asylum seeker I believe there is nothing that hinders you to learn, because all the courses I do are free. When I was part of the forum, lunch was free and they provide transport if you need it. The fact that the courses that I do are free (through Cardiff Met Widening Access) is very useful.

My plan is study further in a master’s degree, but I might need to take further courses before I can do this. People tell me I am a hard worker and motivated to succeed and that this is shown by where I work where I want to continue and put more money in my pocket. Master’s students don’t get grants to cover your fees. So I need to work hard and save enough to study for fees.

If I am granted indefinite leave to remain then this can take up to five years, at this point I want to bring my family over – four more years to go. My family are very proud of me and very happy because I didn’t waste any time. I am good example to my friends and I have been motivating them. For example I personally persuaded four of my friends to do the same business course as me. At first, they did not think they would be eligible so they did not apply, because they did not think their English level would be very good. Now they want to do more courses.

I know so many people and friends who are eager to study but they need to do as many courses in English as they can to help them. The positive things I have experienced in my education journey have been that the courses I have done have been free, so they have given me the motivation to apply. Secondly, the accreditation is very important as you can use this course in the university. Finally, the courses I have done have been short, so that that when one finishes, you have achieved so much in such a short time that you want to do even more. You want to keep on studying as you can achieve so much.


* Please note that this story has been anonymised to protect the identity of the learner.

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Turning Your Life Around

We see lots of learners throughout the year, many of whom want to make a change in their life. They see the opportunity to try a new course, learn a new skill or gain some new knowledge as the thing they want to do. Interestingly they have come to a point in their life, where they want to do “something” and this is where we often meet them. But we often don’t know their backstory.

It could be that the kids are now in school, of they want a better job, or they fancy learning a new subject or it can be more significant than that. In the past, in Widening Access, we have met learners who have successfully dealt with drug or alcohol addiction, or have had mental health issues, or been released from prison, or been granted asylum or something else equally serious. They have overcome personal struggles and see education as a process of helping them make the change in their life that they want to see. The ability of these individuals to overcome personal adversity and show such resilience is remarkable.

One of the things that we try to help these learners to show is that they are not alone. And it is often this sense collective identity that plays a part in these people making their changes. Only last week I met a learner who had significant personal struggles going on in their life, but they wanted to continue on the course they were on. Both myself and the Tutor helped this person to see that, for the two hours they were with us, this was their time where they could take their mind somewhere else, away from the struggles at home. For this learner this approach helped.

SeriouslySometimes you need to hear about how other people have done it, for example this story. Take half an hour to listen to this podcast – just click on this “Seriously…” link or the picture on the left. It’s all about two people who, in their earlier life, experienced abuse, homelessness, drug addiction, and more but overcame this through education. They talk about their journey to beat adversity and their determination to succeed when they had reached rock bottom. The two people are Byron Vincent, a succesful poet, and Dr Anna Woodhouse, who is now a university lecturer. If you listened to their stories in isolation you’d never imagine they could get where they are now. Their ability to show such resilience and say “No, I don’t want to do this anymore, I want to change!” shows that  anyone can turn their life around. And not only have they turned their life around, they have achieved so much since.

Go get yourself a cup of tea and take a break for half an hour to listen to their story. It’s more powerful than anything I could say here.

You will be inspired – I guarantee it.

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Personal Statements and Adult Learners

At this time of year we see quite a few adult learners who want to apply to university. Most adult learners (or mature students as they are often called) have missed out on the all the online help and advice that is now common place, because it wasn’t in place when they were at school or college. The biggest aspect of this they’ve missed is applying online through UCAS (the university’s admission service). Most of the people we’ve seen this year had memories of paper UCAS forms – that’s if they knew about UCAS in the first place – because lots of places we work in are Communities First areas where the aspirations of learners to progress to university is not as high as more afluent areas. We’ve run a few sessions this year about UCAS and once you have explained that it’s relatively straightforward – it’s essentially a job description by a different name – the fear factor is removed.

That is with one exception – the dreaded Personal Statement.

UCAS snip

So with this blog entry I though it would be useful to try to explain how, in a simple and straight forward way, how you can write a clear and concise personal statement, but one that reflects effectively why you want to attend university. It makes you stand out from the crowd.

So here are my top ten tips:

1. WHY HAVE YOU CHOSEN THIS COURSE? Explain simply why the course is attractive to you. Does it match your career aspirations? Do you want to meet like-minded people? Have the children grown up and moved out, so it’s now the right time for you? This will introduce you and the link between yourself, your interests, the course and the university.

2. WHAT INTERESTS YOU ABOUT THE COURSE? Do your research and look at the modules you would be studying. Talk about some of these and what you like about them. This shows you’ve not just looked at the title and / or location, but instead have put some thought in to your application and that it matches your own interest and expertise.

3. WHAT HAVE YOU READ ABOUT THE SUBJECT? When you come to university you will spend a great deal of time researching your subject. Start early and mention some areas where you have read about the subject you are applying for. These can be contemporary references, such as TV, papers (preferably not the tabloids), radio and the internet. Don’t cut and paste from the internet (especially Wikipedia). University’s are experts at spotting plagiarism (or “copying” to you and me) and will be able to tell easily if you’ve done this.

4. WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER ASPIRATIONS? Universities want you to progress in to employment after graduation so it is important that you mention here what you would like to do once you’ve finished. Again look into what careers are typical destinations for graduates. This show’s you’ve done your research and matches the course to your interests again.

5. WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO AFTER THE COURSE? For some adults a foundation course is their first experience of formal higher education. Foundations are a great introduction to university life as they prepare you for undergraduate study, as well as show you how to develop key academics skills, such as research skills or referencing. For others they may have a particular job, employer or other post-graduate course in mind. Universities want their graduates to be employed once they leave (this is one of their targets) so it is important to explain your next steps here.

6. PERSONAL QUALITIES. Are you a hard worker? Do you see things through to the end? Are you practical? Can you meet deadlines? Do you have a personal interest in the subject. These are all things a tutor wants to hear. Look at your experiences and draw positives from them. Play sport? You work well in a team environment. Carer? You’ve got empathy. Parent? You’ve got budget skills, planning experience, can multi-task, have leadership skills, can resolve conflicts and will manage in a crisis!

7. INVOLVEMENT IN ANY SCHEMES OR PROGRAMMES? Have you been on any training programmes? Do you volunteer? Are you a carer? These are all things that show your ability to develop yourself both personally and professionally. Talk about these here and explain what difference these experiences have meant to you as a person.

8. WORK EXPERIENCE? This is often an area where adult learners are at an advantage to students fresh out of college. Often adults have worked in different roles, from part-time to full-time. Talk about these experiences here, but don’t list every job you had since you were delivering papers in the morning at age 14. Select the most appropriate jobs that best show off your skills and competencies. For some people there may be less to draw on than others: for example if you’ve been at home raising a family. You should still talk about these experiences here and how they have shaped you as a person. Don’t forget to mention volunteering. All this gives colour to your application and makes you different to another applicant.

9. WHAT SKILLS HAVE YOU DEVELOPED? Talk about the experience in Section 6 above and explain how they have developed you. Talk especially about how the different roles and employment opportunities developed different aspects of yourself, to increase your skills and enhance you as a person both personally and professionally.

10. FUTURE PLANS? What will it mean to you to come to university? Are there goals you have set yourself? Are you the first in your family to go to university? This is a section where you can show how to can become an excellent role model and someone to look up to in your family. You are saying, “If I can do then so can you”. Adult learners often go on a significant personal journey through education.

Remember the personal statement is the place to sell yourself to the person reading the application – the admissions tutor. It’s the same as a Supporting Statement in a job application.

There’s lots of help online, from suggestions of good examples to look at, to UCAS’s own guide including a helpful video.

Finally, remember to get a friend or colleague to look at your statement and proofread it. It make take a bit of time to get right, but in the end it will be worth it because getting it right could shape the next few years of your life.

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Online Learning – yes please!

I recently attended a conference on Online and Blended Learning, showing several good examples of student engagement through online learning communities. One example showed the virtual reality game Second Life where students learn about not only the game (in a higher education capacity) they even receive lectures within the game itself. This blew my tiny mind!

Typically more straightforward more than this,online learning is pretty much self-explanatory – it’s a course you do over the internet (online). Blended learning mixes typical classroom based activities, which most people are all used to, with online learning too. The Open University is an example of where both these courses are utilized. Online learning is definitely something which is gathering pace and I’m sure it will be something that Widening Access will be offering at some point. This year we have spent a great deal of time getting our courses accredited but we still want to offer more. This is where online learning can help, I think.

For example, lots of our learners who have passed the accredited Psychology or Youth & Community modules have mentioned that they could do with some additional study support. Online courses can help here, to give this additional support. This sort of support already exists if you are a student at Cardiff Met, and we want to offer a university experience in the community by seeking to open it up. It wasn’t something we anticipated when we set up these new courses, but having gone almost a whole academic year, we can see now how necessary they are. It’s just hard as we are such a small team though we try to be a visible to all our learners as much as we can – either in person or on the end of the phone or email. But it’s a challenge we have to meet.

If we are able to offer online learning opportunities alongside our accredited learning provision then it will result in a better and more informed adult learner coming through the doors of the university. Frequently adult learners who maybe have taken a break from education, struggle with some things that younger students take for granted: how to write an academic essay, how to plan your time for study, using English grammar correctly, and more. Adult learners have arguably more to lose if study doesn’t work for them. Hopefully by offering online study skills before coming to Cardiff Met, adult learners in the future will be better prepared, more informed and suitably equipped to study and succeed.