Professor Andrew Edwards and Siân Gwenllian MS with a mentor and mentee of the Reaching Wider programme.
The Reaching Wider programme aims to support learners to access further and higher education, and last week an event was held at the Senedd, sponsored by Siân Gwenllian MS to celebrate the programme’s pioneering work.
Reaching Wider North and Mid Wales Partnership is led by Bangor University working in partnership with Aberystwyth University, Wrexham University, Coleg Cambria, Coleg Ceredigion, Y Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, Grŵp Llandrillo Menai and NPTC Group of Colleges. The end of the pilot phase was marked by a celebration of learners’ success stories and undergraduate students’ reflections at the Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay last week.
To coincide with the event it was announced that the Wales-wide mentoring pilot scheme that paired learners from year 12 in schools and colleges with undergraduate university students has received funding for a second year.
The scheme, to help both student mentors and their mentees develop skills after the disruption of the pandemic, has provided new opportunities for students to share with learners their experiences of living and studying in universities in Wales.
250 learners from year 12 have already been mentored by more than 100 undergraduate students through the Brightside portal, a bilingual app that mentors and mentees use as part of the mentoring process.
The project has been funded through HEFCW’s Reaching Wider Programme and led by the Reaching Wider North and Mid Wales Partnership, working collaboratively with the two other Reaching Wider Partnerships in South West Wales and South East Wales, university and college partners, schools and other providers.
During the pilot, the three Reaching Wider Partnerships worked with priority schools and colleges, from which fewer learners have tended to choose university, to promote the opportunities. The teams prioritised young people who were from backgrounds traditionally under-represented in higher education, such as disabled learners, learners from UK ethnic minority backgrounds, and carers and care experienced learners around Wales. Welsh speaking learners and students were encouraged to use Welsh in the scheme where they could.
Professor Andrew Edwards, Pro Vice-Chancellor Bangor University (Welsh Language, Civic Engagement and Strategic Partnerships) said:
“We are delighted that the mentoring programme will continue. This initiative offers learners a distinct opportunity to gain first-hand insights into the life of a university student in Wales. Mentors are well equipped to provide a personal perspective on the transition to higher education, offering valuable advice on issues such as accessing financial support to study skills resources. This support bolsters the mentees' confidence and encourages them to more confidently explore the array of opportunities available in higher education.”
Siân Gwenllian MS said:
“I’m glad to have been given the opportunity to sponsor such an inspiring event.
“It is important that young people from all backgrounds are made to feel that higher education is accessible, and programmes that work to open doors for those young people are vital.
“It is encouraging that the work done by Reaching Wider has been recognised and that further funding has been allocated.”
Half of the learners who were mentored were from areas of Wales defined by the Welsh Government as among the most deprived in Wales. Ten per cent of mentees declared a disability, and 12% were from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background. 7% of mentees were either carers themselves or were care-experienced. A quarter of learners were Welsh speakers.