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EUSA study shows need for widening participation in University societies

ByMolly Sandford-Ward

Apr 19, 2016

Students from lower income and minority backgrounds are less likely to hold committee and leadership positions in University of Edinburgh’s societies and clubs, according to research conducted by University of Edinburgh Students Association (EUSA) in conjunction with University administrative officials.

The study pronounced that UK students with 3 Widening Participation (WP) markers are roughly half as likely as other UK students to hold society and club committee positions at the University of Edinburgh.

Overall, 6.93 per cent of UK students who did not have any WP markers were committee position holders, but this reduced by more than 2 per cent for students with 1 or more markers.

Within the Sports Union (SU), it was found that only 27.5 per cent of UK office holders fulfilled the WP criteria to the 37.5 per cent in the UK university population as a whole.

In addition, although the study acknowledges incomplete data for SU membership, it also suggests that students with WP markers are less likely to be ordinary members of SU clubs than those without.

The statistics for EUSA societies, however, are a little more balanced. The proportion of UK students fulfilling WP criteria and engaged with EUSA societies was comparable to the proportion of WP students in the University of Edinburgh’s ‘Rest of the UK (RUK)’ population.

Approximately the same amount of RUK EUSA society office holders had WP markers as the overall RUK population, as well.  The same cannot be said of Scottish students, however. 11 per cent fewer office holders were WP students than the proportion of those in the overall Scottish population.

This study was based on the records of those students who matriculated at the university between 2011/12 and 2014/15. The system of WP markers has been adopted by the University’s admissions and finance offices, in order to note the welfare and financial statuses of students.

A number of WP markers were used, including any combination of being in receipt of a bursary, being a care leaver, being a participant in an access program, applying from an area of relative deprivation in Scotland or previously attending a school with lower-than-average performance level.

It must be noted that there are 4 fewer WP indicators for RUK students, which may account for disparities between figures for Scottish and RUK students.

The study stated that: “students from Scotland are less likely to engage than the RUK group, particularly if they are from Edinburgh and particularly if they are from Edinburgh and a less advantaged background”.

It also noted that: “students living at home who are traveling from beyond Edinburgh are particularly challenged with regard to extra-curricular activities.”

These findings may be particularly relevant in the face of government plans to scrap maintenance grants for students from low-income households, according to the opinion of students who are active in University clubs, societies and teams.

One member of a University of Edinburgh Rowing Squad, who spoke anonymously to The Student, said: “Without my bursary and grants, there’s no way I could row. I’m just about okay as it is but if I had to work instead of getting bursaries and grants, I couldn’t row.”

They went on: “I would suggest that societies and sports clubs should also offer more support to widening participation students, possibly offering subsidies for transport or competition fees.”

Jonny Ross-Tatam, EUSA President, also commented on the results of the study. He told The Student: “societies, sports, volunteering and other extra-curricular activities are a vital part of student life, but we need to make sure they are affordable and accessible for all our students.

“This research shows there is a lot of work to do to ensure equality of opportunity for all students on campus. We should look at further expanding bursaries and also introducing a Participation Grant to provide extra financial support for students from low income households who want to get involved in extra-curricular opportunities.”

Rebecca Gaukroger, the University of Edinburgh Director of Student Recruitment and Admissions, also spoke to The Student about the study, saying: “the University’s Student Recruitment & Admissions office has worked closely with EUSA and other University offices to carry out this analysis.

“We are now keen to support EUSA as they work to identify and address the causes of underrepresentation of students with widening participation markers in clubs and societies – particularly in leadership roles.”

Gaukroger added that alongside the participation in committee and leadership within university societies being analyzed, data was also collected on the lack of participation in the Edinburgh Award programme from lower income students.

“Additional analysis showed that students with widening participation markers were more likely than others to participate in the Edinburgh Award programme,” she told The Student.
“It is notable that the Edinburgh Award was designed at the outset to be inclusive and to recognise a very wide range of achievement, including engagement with the University’s widening participation projects.” Gaukroger concluded.

Image credit: Jon Vrushi

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