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UEL wins Times Higher Education widening participation award

Judges praised the programme's "demonstrable record of success"

The University of East London (UEL) has won a coveted Times Higher Education (THE) Award for its pioneering New Beginnings programme. 

It won the ‘Widening Participation or Outreach Initiative of the Year’ category at the awards ceremony, often referred to as the ‘Oscars of higher education’, last night in London. 

New Beginnings specialises in preparing people who have been out of education for a long time or do not have formal or sufficient qualifications to start undergraduate degree study.

The expert panel of judges said, “New Beginnings stood out because of its demonstrable record of success

“It addresses many of the barriers to access experienced by mature students and has been sustained over many years. Although programmes of this nature exist in many institutions, what sets New Beginnings apart is the evidence of impact on enrolment in university courses and subsequent success.” 

UEL’s Dr Caroline McGlynn (pictured centre, holding award), who leads the programme and was herself a New Beginnings student, was delighted with the win. 

She said, “The New Beginnings team are delighted to have been recognised for the work they do.  We were so pleased to have been shortlisted along with colleagues delivering great initiatives in the field of widening participation and are thrilled to have won.  

“Widening participation is very important to everyone at UEL and our thanks go to colleagues across the University who have supported and promoted this programme.” 

New Beginnings offers a 10-week regular course, an accelerated programme consisting of one day a week over five weeks, and an intensive path delivered over five days. 

Students acquire skills such as critical reading, analytical thinking, library research, and academic writing. Courses run throughout the year.

Welcoming the news, UEL vice-chancellor and president, Professor Amanda Broderick said, “This award is a fantastic tribute to the hard work and dedication of our staff at the University. 

“We are a careers-led university, and our New Beginnings programme shows those who wish to go to university, but thought it was not possible, have a home where they can transform their lives ready for the 4th Industrial Revolution. 

“We are a place of innovation, and the judges have recognised that this university embraces widening participation with innovative and cutting-edge ideas.”

UEL has been offering the programme for a number of years, and officially relaunched New Beginnings in 2016 with a dedicated teaching and administration team, resulting in a significant increase in recruitment, retention and attainment of students.

In total, 302 applicants were accepted for the 2016-17 academic year and two-thirds of those passed, becoming eligible to access UEL undergraduate courses in 2017-18.

Geoff Thompson, UEL chair of the Board of Governors said, “This award is the culmination of a remarkable year for UEL and acknowledges the institution’s unique and distinct ongoing commitment to the social mobility and widening participation of our students and the communities in which they live. Congratulations to the staff, students and all involved in realising this special accolade.”

Alumni of the programme include Paralympic shotput medal winner Vanessa Wallace, and Corinne Humphreys, who has represented England as a sprinter at Commonwealth and European championships. Corinne graduated from UEL this year with a first-class BA Advertising degree.

Bernadette Taylor, who is currently studying fashion design at UEL, arrived at New Beginnings at the age of 71. This year she won the Festival of Learning’s ‘Senior Adult Learner’ award and was honoured at a ceremony in parliament.

THE editor John Gill said, “As ever, our shortlists represent the best of the best - but our judges also reported that this year’s entries were the strongest that they could remember, so all those honoured should be incredibly proud. It's THE's great honour to help celebrate their success.” 

Internal evaluation by the University suggests that students who complete New Beginnings go on to enjoy further academic success. Seventy-two per cent achieved a first-class or 2.1 degree.