'Everyone should be able to achieve their potential - this is how social mobility helps'

Sheffield Hallam was named as the University of the Year at the recent 2021 UK Social Mobility Awards. It’s always good to receive this kind of recognition, but our approach to providing local people with the opportunities to fulfil their full potential goes much further than gaining awards. Being a driver of social mobility within our region is in our DNA.

Monday, 1st November 2021, 10:42 am
Updated Monday, 1st November 2021, 10:43 am

The idea that everyone one should have the opportunity to achieve their potential in life, regardless of background or circumstances, underpins much of the current debate about levelling up.

It matters for individuals, but it also has a much wider positive impact on our society as a whole – both socially and economically.

At Sheffield Hallam, providing opportunities to those who may not otherwise have them has always been a priority. Our ground-breaking social mobility partnership, South Yorkshire Futures, was set up in 2017 with the aim of improving the educational health of our region – ensuring children and young people across the region to have the opportunity to succeed.

A GROW mentor and mentee outside Chaucer School in Sheffield.

Working with colleges, schools, local authorities and others, the focus of the programme is simple: to raise aspirations and attainment from early years education right through to school leavers, supporting progression into further or higher education, and into work.

South Yorkshire Futures leads a number of regional projects that are directly benefitting children and young people from our area, helping them to achieve their true potential.

A great example of this is our mentoring programme, which pairs recent Hallam graduates with Y11-13 school pupils, helping them to focus on their education and futures following the disruption caused by the pandemic.

In the last year more than 1,000 pupils across our region have benefited from one-to-one support as a result of the programme.

Students in Hallam Square.

And just this week, in partnership with the four South Yorkshire local authorities, we’ve launched a new regional strategy to help ensure all children achieve the expected levels of development in communication, language and literacy by the time they start school.

Our recent award recognised that our approach to regional social mobility is having an impact. But this is also reflected within the makeup of our student community. Sheffield Hallam educates more students from underrepresented backgrounds than any other UK university.

Also, more than half of our 30,000 students are the first in their family to go to university, a quarter are from neighbourhoods with low participation in higher education and around 40% come from within 25 miles of our campus.

Many of our students have had to overcome huge barriers even to apply to come to university, and some need extra support while they’re here to ensure they thrive.

One such student is Emily, now in her second year at Hallam. She is a carer for a disabled parent, and so commutes from home to university. Emily worried before coming to university that she wouldn’t be able to afford it – which can be a barrier for many young people.

As a university, we ensured Emily received extra support to help with the costs of train fares so she could study and remain living at home to support her family. She was also supported to buy the technology she needed to study remotely during the pandemic.

Thanks to this support, helped by a Barratt Scholarship, she is currently on work placement and is thriving on her course. These are the kind of success stories are replicated right across the university.However, it’s important to recognise that support isn’t always financial. Pastoral care, wellbeing, learning support and careers advice are also vital.

At Sheffield Hallam, every student has access to three dedicated advisers – one for academic advice, one for employability and a third for support services.

We’re proud of this approach to student support, which has been especially important over the last 18 months.

All these elements, and many more, go in to making Sheffield Hallam a university which has a clear role in supporting social mobility.

However, we know that there is still a long way to go, and that is why education and skills are at the heart of our new Civic University Agreement – a set of new commitments we have made to the region.

It’s also why we focus on support for the economy and jobs, supporting local businesses to grow, and creating the opportunities for more highly skilled and better paid jobs.

Of course, there needs to be a collective effort for change to happen. We work with partners and employers across the region, including with other providers of high-quality education and skills.

We also recognise that there are still many challenges ahead if we are to achieve long term change, and that the Covid pandemic has added to these - both educationally and economically.

But as the examples above show, we can make a real difference to lives and opportunities across our region. And at Sheffield Hallam, as our recent award demonstrates, we’re committed to playing our part.