Sutton Trust COVID-19 and the University Experience Report: a Response

In the light of the findings from the recently published The Sutton Trust COVID-19 and the University Experience report, we reached out to our friends over at CHEERs (The Community for Higher Education Educators Researchers and Supports) for comment regarding the Careers education. We also hear from steering group member, Chris Webb with his initial thoughts on the report.

The Sutton Trust COVID-19 and the University Experience Report

We at CHEERs (The Community for Higher Education Educators Researchers and Supporters) are extremely concerned about this report and believe it highlights why effective careers guidance is more important than ever. School leaders know they have to prioritise learning, but I want to take this chance to call on all senior leaders to make Careers a key part of their planning. We must ensure that students of all ages have access to the right guidance and information. We must provide support and reassurance to ease the worries of those students who will shortly be transitioning to university life. As part of how our network can help, we are happy to offer bespoke, aspiration-raising information and guidance sessions for schools. They can directly address concerns raised in the report through targeted support with study skills needed to thrive at university while also giving information about the pastoral, social and financial options available to students. We are here to help reassure them there is a world of opportunity awaiting them beyond the current situation and that they, as the future of our economy, are critical to the country’s regeneration.

Jon Datta – CHEERs Committee Member

The recommendations in this report are important and speak to the needs of many on-course students. It is note-worthy that some universities have had huge successes in engaging students with bespoke initiatives specifically designed to meet the needs of students from underrepresented backgrounds. King’s College London’s Civic Leadership Academy recently won the Guardian’s Employability and Entrepreneurship award for its innovative approach. By placing students into paid internships with local charities this program has offered an opportunity for paid employment and the development of non-academic life skills during the pandemic. Universities should seek to create paid opportunities for students from underrepresented backgrounds to develop transferable skills.

This report defines ‘working class’ based on parental occupation, specifically those students with parents in C2DE professions. Working class identity is more complicated than this one factor and it would therefore be interesting to see a range of factors taken into consideration to fully understand how covid has affected the student experience. Research on the experiences of commuter vs on campus students, estranged students, young carers, first generation students, those eligible for free-school meals at school, and so on would give a more detailed picture. The report points to the fact that some students will have benefitted from the increased accessibility of online learning suggesting that evidence on the experiences of students from a variety of priority groups would be beneficial. Parental occupation is one indicator of class, but it is by no means the only factor that should be considered.

Claudia Breakwell – CHEERs Committee Member

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