Villiers Park works with the UPP Foundation to develop a university transition course

Supporting students from underrepresented backgrounds to remove barriers and help them settle into university. 
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To help young people from under-represented backgrounds make the transition from school or college to university, Villiers Park is working with the UPP Foundation to deliver additional support for young people including our new Transition to University course. Here, Villiers Park’s Director of Programmes Deborah Richardson talks about why the support is needed and how it will help young people take their first steps into higher education. 

I started working for Villiers Park in 1990 and while the organisation has changed hugely in my time here there continue to be issues with access to higher education. Although we now see many more students from underrepresented backgrounds entering higher education, degree and employment outcomes for these students are much lower than their more advantaged peers.  

We see in the students that we work with that the transition to higher education can be daunting, with their first year of university proving pivotal in determining their trajectory. Our findings from this project underscore the need for comprehensive support during this period, especially for under-represented students. Obstacles such as Student Finance applications and access to affordable housing can prove to be insurmountable barriers for young people before they even arrive at university.  


(From left to right: Students at the University of Northumbria for a STEM insight day. Students at the University of Bath Residential 2023)

Many dropouts happen during or at the end of the first year, where the jump from college to university can shock students. Our Transition to University course aims to give students the skills and confidence they need to manage the practical, emotional and logistical aspects of university life.  

We have developed this transition course with qualitative feedback from our Future Leaders and the young people on our programmes. With additional insight from focus groups with undergraduate and postgraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds at the University of Kent, Northumbria University, and UWE Bristol. We are currently piloting the Transition to University course with University of Northumbria students, alongside an online version for Future Leaders who are transitioning to university this autumn. 

The research surfaced several key findings. These are listed below, along with Villiers Park’s recommendations for uplifting universities’ practice: 

  1. We heard from students that they feel there is a lack of resources and information to introduce them to university life. In order to get them up to speed with what to expect we are proposing introductory webinars after they complete their A-levels. 
  2. We also heard about the impact of the disconnect between school and university, and recommend academic support provided by current undergraduates and peer mentors who can call on their own experiences to better prepare our students.  
  3. Lastly, we are proposing a simple glossary as part of the university welcome pack. For many students on our Future Leaders Programme, for example, they are the first person in their family to go to university. Clear information that doesn’t assume knowledge, such as the difference between lectures, seminars and tutorials, will help make students feel informed and that they belong. 

The transition to higher education is a critical phase in the academic journey of underrepresented students. Addressing the challenges they face during this transition is essential for improving completion rates and employment outcomes. Villiers Park's efforts, backed by the UPP Foundation, represent a significant step towards empowering these students to fulfil their potential and succeed in higher education and beyond. By providing tailored support and resources, we can bridge the gap and ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to thrive. 

To learn more about our research and findings contact 

Our Impact

We work with hundreds of young people every year, empowering them to succeed in their chosen field. 
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