“It was essential for me to work during my time at college and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to afford university.” Elizabeth Parrott, a PhD Drones and Forensics candidate from Stockport, is talking about her concerns before arriving at LJMU as an undergraduate. “I wanted to do a specialised course, only available at the time at three UK universities, however I didn’t get the A-level Chemistry grade I needed.”
What happened next in Elizabeth’s story is vital to the ongoing conversation around promoting social mobility and the need to give everyone with the potential to succeed the opportunity to enter higher education. “I knew I wanted to come to university, but I didn’t have a family member to ask about it,” says Elizabeth, who is the first of her family in many generations to go to university. “There was also money worries. My parents didn’t know what to expect – they still don’t fully understand what I do now! – but LJMU offered an alternative route through my high biology grades.”
While there is a lot of policy focus on young full-time undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds right now, reasons for promoting wider access remain varied; a desire for social justice or a desire to meet the needs of employers and the UK economy for skilled graduates, for example. But it remains vital that encouragement and support is given to students in primary and secondary education: “For me, being encouraged to do more maths at school would have helped as it can open so many doors in the future,” says Elizabeth who studied Forensic Anthropology and Drone Technology at undergraduate level. “My biggest challenge was starting a topic completely unfamiliar to my background and previous skill set… all of a sudden I had to do a lot more work compared to my classmates, because of my different background.”
Elizabeth succeeded through a combination of hard work and support - university, it seems, was just right for the Stockport student: “There’s a lot of practical and hands-on experience at LJMU, which I later found was not as readily available at other institutions,” she says. “Also, for my studies, our partnership with an archaeological dig also meant much more time gaining that practical experience.”
Being a student has brought the best out of Elizabeth and her particular strengths have proved perfectly suited to life at LJMU: “Studying here has allowed me to become a much more confident person,” she says. “I’m now able to happily teach and present to over 100 people! My critical analysis and logical thinking skills have also improved, helping me become a much more employable person.” The point of widening access to higher education is all about providing such opportunities to students from non-traditional backgrounds and Elizabeth is living proof of the success it can bring.“The opportunities I’ve had have been amazing and, with the support of the lecturers, I managed to come away with a distinction in my MSc,” Elizabeth reveals. “Since then, I’ve been awarded the Pro-Vice Chancellor’s scholarship and managed to get Masters funding because of good grades and academic references.”
Further study is also providing a path to Elizabeth’s future, as she strives to make the most of her hard work and opportunities: “I hope to stay on in academia, taking on a full-time teaching and research role, and LJMU is helping me achieve this by giving me full funding support in both my MSc and PhD,” she says. “The brilliant staff in Policing and Engineering are also giving me insights into the career!”
Providing opportunities to 'Dream, Plan, Achieve': LJMU's Widening Participation Programme.