Fiona Curry from the University of Gloucestershire and Partnerships Manager at HELOA provides a guide on some of the best ways of working with academic staff.
Have you ever witnessed the myth among colleagues that widening participation and outreach are just ‘delivering some nice activities with kids’ and is lacking relevance to the wider strategies that they are working towards?
If that has been or is the attitude prevailing in your institution, then you will know first-hand how challenging it can be to communicate the importance and relevance of the WP agenda.
Changing attitudes is not insurmountable, but requires persistence and the right foundations. These are top tips to on-board your academic colleagues.
- Identify your ‘champions’
These are the academics who understand the value of WP engagement and are keen to work with you to create a fantastic menu of interventions on and off-campus. They’ll volunteer for your residentials, workshops in schools and understand the need to tailor activity based on your key audiences. They also build strong relationships with advisers in schools and colleges, given the opportunity.
Nurture your relationships with these people and evaluate and monitor impact carefully, so you can share best practice with other subject areas. They’ll be your advocates in strategic meetings and help you deliver your access agenda.
- Consistent, clear communication
With competing priorities – clear communication from your team and as a wider department with academics is key. Practising this in-department first is vital so that you know as a wider team which demands of their time need to be prioritised and where are the best forums to do this.
Once you know what the message is, whether it be targeting of schools and colleges, the type of activity you want to offer etc, you need buy-in and understanding from all stakeholders, upwards through senior management and sideways. You need to be sure the message and ‘elevator pitch’ is consistent, whoever is delivering it.
- Alignment of objectives
To close the gap in access from students from underrepresented backgrounds, we need to recruit them to our universities and are therefore measured on enrolments of those students. Once academics understand that, the direct link between student recruitment and outreach becomes clearer.
Couple this with the message that the approach to best service institutions and the individual is honesty about who you are as an institution, what you offer and what you can provide that student, but also where you might not be the best fit.
- Kindness and enthusiasm
Higher Education can be a hamster wheel at times, so, begin with a foundation of appreciation that all staff are working to a common goal, to support existing and potential students, one eye forwards to the horizon and the other looking to the present view. Especially in these challenging times when work, parenting, schooling and socialising become a blur, more kindness and understanding than you might normally give yourself and others is called for.
Harness your enthusiasm and energy to support students to make informed decisions and access their potential, wherever that may take them, and be an example for the energy academic colleagues should demonstrate of their subjects to students and teachers.
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