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Social mobility begins at education level – Part 3

17 February 2022
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Social mobility is a topic that has been gaining momentum in the financial sector and last summer the FCA shared a paper with the firms they regulate to detail their commitment to fostering change across the sector. This includes boards and senior management. While we are seeing focus on individuals who have already embarked on their career, change also needs to happen at the very start of a person’s career and also during their education. Wheelhouse interviewed Katharine Morgan, Widening Participation Senior Officer at a UK Higher Education Institution to understand what can be done to encourage social mobility at the beginning of an individual’s career and how this can have a greater impact in the long term.

Wheelhouse Advisors: A KPMG study conducted in 2019 highlighted a lack of social mobility and accessibility in the financial sector. In response to this, financial firms and institutions have been investing time and research to overcome the challenges that coincide with social mobility. In order to understand social mobility, can you explain more about your role, what is Wider Participation and why is it important.

KM: Yes certainly. Widening Participation (WP) comes under a broader social mobility umbrella whereby people are given support to access educational opportunities that they may not otherwise have been able to have. WP in the context of education and my role is about ensuring students from underprivileged backgrounds are supported to access  higher education. It is essentially the idea of creating a level playing field for all students to thrive, regardless of their background.

In order to do this, it is critical that we both acknowledge and overcome the limiting barriers that students and young people face. For instance, this could be a lack of financial means or not having access to support and guidance to make decisions that could shape their future.

Our work is funded by the government through Access and Participation Plans so that, if a university wishes to charge their higher fees, students from underrepresented areas can  receive support . We work closely with underrepresented groups, which are students from areas in the UK who are least likely to go to university. Research suggests that  there are specific ethnic groups such as white working class boys or both black afro-caribbean boys and girls who are least likely to go on to university following their studies at school. My role involves running projects and applying funding to support these students. WP across education is incredibly important because that time of a person’s life shapes their future. By giving these students access and opportunities, they can unlock careers and jobs that would be closed to them without a degree.

Wheelhouse Advisors: It is interesting to see the links between education and access, and how overcoming the challenges of social mobility from the beginning of a young person’s life can have a real impact moving forward. Can you explain more about how you work with young people and any specific projects you have carried out to empower young people to reach their potential?

KM: We run projects with young people with the goal to raise aspirations and to support them to apply to university. We actually start to work with students from primary school age. This is very important as through this work, we give them access to role models of people who are at university or are leaders within their field. We want them to see people who look and sound like them going to university or pursuing a certain career. We provide projects beyond the curriculum where they can develop their interests and gain new skills in different fields. This could include finance, medical, IT, science and a huge number of different topics. For secondary school students, we host summer schools and bring them on to a campus so they can experience what it would be like to be at university. Once in sixth form, we help students with any entry exams they should need. An example for this is the LNAT for law.

Wheelhouse Advisors: It is great to hear about all the work that the education sector is doing to foster social mobility for students. How do you ensure this carries out beyond education and into work?

KM: We carry out robust evaluations and run focus groups. We work with key partners to give students additional experiences with their projects. This can include helping them to get work experience in specific fields. We work alongside businesses in different sectors so students can have time and exposure to what could be possible. We recently took students to a tech company in Cannon Street that works in the stock market. These kinds of visits help to broaden students’ horizons and are essential for overcoming the challenges we face in social mobility.

Wheelhouse Advisors would like to thank Katherine for her time and sharing her thoughts with the team.