Fairer Access: What British Charities Are Doing for Education Accessibility

Apr 27, 2011

The effect of social inequity on education access is a problem familiar to many learners around the globe. A charitable organization in the United Kingdom, though, has come up with a pretty solid plan for sending economically disadvantaged students to universities. What can the rest of the world learn from their example?

By Eric Garneau

Who They Are

Their name is Villiers Park Educational Trust, and their mission is to help students who deserve it gain access to higher education. They want to do so without forcing schools to alter their admissions policies - they seek fair access for all British learners. So far, results have been encouraging; the Villiers Park website reports that 95% of students who've participated in their programs have gone on to receive a university education. Further, according to The Guardian, more than 80% of participants went on to 'leading universities,' defined as those within the top 20% of their field in the U.K.

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What They Do

Villiers Park learners benefit from a number of services, including one-on-one mentoring and advanced-level classes and workshops. A major part of their program involves 'residential courses,' which simulate the university experience by bringing dedicated students from different regions together to study specific subjects. Villiers Park even works with the students' home schools to help supplement their classroom experience.

All the while, the Villiers Park program emphasizes achievement. In addition to requiring their charges to exhibit economic or social need, they only work with students who perform well on reasoning or subject tests. Once students enter the program, they're still held to high standards while they learn both general skills like studying and research along with specific knowledge tailored to their interests.

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Results have been positive across the board. First, you have the above-cited statistics regarding their success rate. Beyond that, students involved in the program report a huge boost in confidence; all of a sudden going away to a university seems like something completely achievable. Even families of the students, some of whom have never had an opportunity for higher learning, feel better about their future.

Can They Keep It Up?

According to The Guardian, the Villiers Park program currently helps 240 students, all from the relatively close Wiltshire and Swindon counties. Clearly this program works. The question then becomes if expansion is possible.

Indeed, The Guardian reports that Villiers Park's funds have about reached their limit. In order to help more students, they're going to need new donors. The money could come from universities, the government or private philanthropists, all of whom might reasonably see it as an investment in their future. Villiers Park executives are confident that their program could help students across the U.K. Hopefully others feel the same.

Read about another program that employs mentoring to great success in our interview with Friends of the Children.

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