Universities, regulators, politicians, policy specialists, NGOs and members of the Gypsy, Traveller, Roma, Showpeople and Boater (GTRSB) communities came together on 20 January 2021, to launch the Good Practice in supporting GTRSB students into and within Higher Education Pledge in an online event attended by more than 150 people.
The Vice-Chancellor of Buckinghamshire New University, Professor Nick Braisby, chaired and opened the event calling on senior leaders in Higher Education to take time to understand the experience of the GTRSB communities, to sign the Pledge, and implement the changes necessary to enable more students to flourish.
Education policy approaches to widening participation
- Baroness Whitaker, Co-Chair for All Parliamentary Party Group (APPG)
- Kate Green – Shadow Education Secretary
- Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the Higher Education regulator, The Office for Students
- Professor Julia Buckingham, President of universities membership body, Universities UK
- Professor David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia
Baroness Whitaker, said the Pledge needs to act as a catalyst to create a welcoming environment in universities for the release of talent. Kate Green thought It is really important we tackle discrimination and structural barriers that exist throughout the education system by increasing staff training and raising awareness of the history and culture of their students in curriculum content.
Chris Millward and Prof Buckingham reflected on the opportunities and momentum that the Pledge provides for universities to demonstrate leadership in society and transform the lives of students. Prof Richardson spoke of how institutions may perpetuate systemic racism, acting as a key barrier to inclusion.
Experiences in Higher Education
- Lisa Smith (ACERT)
- Professor Colin Clark of the University of West Scotland
- Martin Gallagher, Ph.D student, Northumbria University
- Chelsea McDonagh, the Education Officer for the Traveller Movement
- Sherrie Smith of Buckinghamshire New University
- Dr Aleksandar Marinov, University of St Andrews
- Shelby Holmes, an Oxford University graduate
- Allison Hulmes, British Association for Social Work Cymru, National Director, and co-founder of the Gypsy Roma Traveller Social Work Association
- Dr Rosa Cisneros of Coventry University.
Lisa stressed that better support in education, and access to higher education is a matter of social justice and that institutions committed to the Pledge can signal a real step-change and improvement for members of the GTRSB communities. Colin Clark spoke of his own academic journey and emphasised that it was the responsibility of everyone in Higher Education to level the playing field and enhance equalities and inclusion. Martin Gallagher discussed the challenges and barriers he faced at secondary school which ultimately inspired him to return to study in his late 20s while Chelsea McDonagh praised the support she was given by individual teachers which opened up educational opportunities for her. Sherrie Smith told how her journey through Higher Education created a ‘ripple effect’ through her networks and extended family
Dr Aleksandar Marinov said he never came across fellow Gypsy, Roma and Traveller students at university; he hoped the Pledge will encourage institutions to include their history and culture in curricula to increase the visibility of the diverse communities. Shelby Holmes described her “iron will” to gain an education which meant she had to sneak away from fairground duties to complete her schoolwork. She had had conversations with older Showmen who told her that they would have loved to had the chance to experience Higher Education.
Allison Hulmes spoke of her great hope that the Pledge will make a difference to communities and the social work profession which needs to be more aware of diversity and discrimination faced by members of the GRTSB communities. Dr Cisneros discussed the Pledge’s importance in enabling universities and key policy agencies such at the OfS and HESA to gain more data.
Videos from universities who had taken the Pledge prior to the launch event: Hull; Sunderland; Strathclyde; Winchester; and Buckinghamshire New University.