Our commitment to social mobility


“We have a proud heritage of working with communities to foster aspiration and ambition. These principles are embedded not only in our work in the UK, but also in our international strategy with academic partnerships around the world providing opportunities for our students but also supporting the development of higher education in those countries.”

Professor Judith Petts CBE, Vice-Chancellor

Outreach and widening participation

In 2018/19, 94.6% of the University’s entrants were from state schools, of which 14.8% were new entrants from low participation neighbourhoods.

During the 2018/19 academic year the University undertook more than 385 outreach activities, interacting with more than 18,000 individuals across a range of areas, backgrounds and locations. In addition, through our wider public and cultural engagement activities, the University reached out to hundreds of schools and thousands of minds – both young and mature.


Examples of our targeted activities

  • IT courses for mature students from ethnic minorities delivered with Devon and Cornwall Refugee Support
  • Alumni school talks to engage mature students from ethnic minorities
  • Campus visits for looked-after children to build aspiration into higher education
  • The Junior Academy, which provides music instrument and theory tuition for aspiring musicians in local secondary schools
  • Evening dance workshops delivered by Exim Dance that build to performances at showcase events
  • History undergraduates supporting history lessons in a local secondary school
  • A student shadowing scheme targeting first-generation students to provide inspiration and a deeper understanding of university life
  • Mature student talks and literature at open days and offer holder days to provide further guidance and information to these students
  • Public engagement through the Devon and Cornwall Children’s University (which the University manages), the University of the Third Age and the University’s extensive public arts programme.
  • Open days and offer holder days travel bursary scheme to reduce financial barriers that affect event attendance. Between September 2019 and February 2020, we provided 836 travel bursaries for those attending open and offer holder days (worth £22,750).

National collaborative outreach: Next Steps South West

The University is the lead institution for the Next Steps South West (NSSW) programme, working with 13 universities and further education colleges throughout Devon, Cornwall and Somerset to raise aspirations, awareness and access to higher education for students aged 13 to 19.

  • NSSW is one of the larger consortia of Uni Connect, funded by the Office for Students.
  • More than 13,790 students and 81 colleges and schools have benefitted so far, from a total of 4,573 interventions to date.
  • Following the success of phase one of NCOP, the project’s funding has been extended for a further two years to July 2021, with an additional £5.5m.
  • Phase two will seek to build upon NSSW’s infrastructure and network, embedding a local ‘outreach hub’ model throughout the three counties.

Partner college network

The University has a very long history of involvement in academic partnerships extending back over 40 years. Starting with developing higher education provision with further education colleges in the South West, this now includes transnational education and an on-campus international college

  • Regional further education colleges – approximately 4500 students across 11 FE colleges from Bristol to Penzance.
  • Most of the programme provision is at HE diploma or foundation degree level (around 84%).
  • Around 16% is at Level 6 with some small numbers at Level 7 (mainly franchised PGCE).
  • Around 500 students a year progress from study at diploma or foundation degree level to the University for Level 6.
  • A further 50–70 students progress each year to undertake Level 5 at the University.
  • Transnational education – the University has a number of overseas partnerships most notably with University of Hong Kong, School of Professional and Continuing Education and NSBM Sri Lanka. New partners include Peninsula College Malaysia, and Management Development Institute Singapore.
  • In terms of the overall scale of activity in 2018/19 there were 12,050 students studying for a University of Plymouth award through academic partnerships.
  • University of Plymouth International College (UPIC) is the University’s on-campus academic partnership with Navitas, a multinational company with expertise and a network of agents and country offices to support international student recruitment. In 2018/19 just under 98% of foundation students progressed to a degree programme. Our partnership with Navitas has just been extended for a further 10 years in the light of its success.

Foundation year provision

Our foundation year provision differs from that offered through our FE partners:

  • We provide enhanced likelihood of progression to Level 6: a large proportion of level 5 FE students view foundation degrees as an exit qualification and complete at level 5. Around 49% of the 1,371 (17/18) students studying a foundation degree with our partners completed at level 5 with the remaining 51% progressing to level 6 either with Plymouth or an alternative provider.

  • We provide enhanced student preparedness for HE and level 6 study: studies by the University’s mathematics department, where there is interest and success in foundation year provision, have concluded that the broader student experience offered in the HE setting, the earlier introduction to a University environment and insight into HE expectations and culture, along with teaching delivery by University staff, prepare students for success and progression to level 6.

  • We facilitate flexibility and choice: the University’s foundation year provision provides students with an alternative route into an area of academic study that their particular A level subjects may not ordinarily support or they may have changed their study preferences.

  • We are widening participation in medicine: as part of our commitment to widening participation to medicine, dentistry and health courses, we undertake a series of initiatives in order to raise aspirations and healthcare.

Medicine and health

Plymouth’s Faculty of Health is a cross-disciplinary health faculty which focuses on delivery of integrative, innovative and inclusive healthcare education to educate the next generation of health professionals, regionally and beyond.

  • We are committed to overcoming the under-representation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds into our BMBS Bachelor of Medicine degree.
  • In 2013 we implemented the Peninsula Pathways to Healthcare Professions scheme that addresses the student journey from primary school to medical practice. It targets and supports the least likely but most able students, regardless of background.
  • The University has already secured additional medical places from the Government based on its ‘track record and commitment to taking candidates from lower socioeconomic backgrounds’.
  • More recently we have introduced a new foundation pathway to the BMBS for 2019/20 to provide an additional bridge for widening participation students to access the BMBS. Care leavers, students from low-income families, and students from refugee families are all encouraged to apply for the foundation year course before transferring to the traditional five-year medical degree. The first students enrolled in September 2019.
  • In October 2018, Health Professions was the theme for the first, and now annual, Health Showcase on campus. Around 500 school students attended the event, which was set up to coincide with the 70th anniversary year of the NHS. Students were able to engage with interactive sessions from subject areas and professionals across the academic spectrum including dietetics, neuroscience, psychology, robotics and physiotherapy.
  • Since 2013, our dental health students (dentists, hygienists, nurses and therapists) have been taught and practice through our unique social enterprise, Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise. PDSE operates four dental education Facilities to improve dental health in the South West through education and training, as well as providing NHS dental care and support to patients from the wider community, particularly those groups who may feel excluded from mainstream dentistry.
  • Our widening participation activities are embedded in our local community through partnerships including Plymouth City Council’s Education Directorate, local charities, Devon and Cornwall Children’s University, local GPs and NHS trusts.

Higher and degree apprenticeships

As part of its approach to developing alternative routes to higher education, the University is offering and developing higher and degree apprenticeships to provide a cheaper alternative to degree-level study, that supports the apprentice to obtain a higher qualification whilst earning and without the need to pay tuition fees.

  • Within the last three years the University has grown its apprenticeship provision significantly. By the end of 2019/20 we will have over 500 apprentices on seven apprenticeships in four sectors, delivered through sub-contracting arrangements and in partnership with employers.
  • The University’s five-year Apprenticeships Strategy focuses on our strengths in key areas such as nursing, and allied health professions, where there is strong and growing regional demand. We will also have a focus on engineering and digital which is strategically linked to the SW Institute of Technology.

South West Institute of Technology

The Universities of Plymouth and Exeter are part of the consortium to be awarded the South West Institute of Technology: one of 12 to be approved by the DfE, sharing a budget of £170 million. The SW Institute project aims to boost digital, engineering and manufacturing technology education in the region.

  • The South West Institute will have centres across Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, with state-of-the-art facilities proposed for Exeter, Truro, Plymouth, Barnstaple and Bridgwater.
  • Up to 2,500 students will be supported in apprenticeships and full-time courses (up to masters degree level).
  • Partner colleges are Bridgwater & Taunton College, City College Plymouth, Exeter College, Petroc, and Truro & Penwith College, The ‘anchor employers’ include Babcock in Plymouth, Oxygen House and the Met Office in Exeter, and TDK Lambda in Ilfracombe.

The IoT is supported by the Heart of the South West LEP and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly LEP.


Office for Students Chair Sir Michael Barber visits University of Plymouth

Sir Michael Barber, Chair of the OfS, which is the independent regulator of higher education in England, met with representatives and students from all levels of the institution to discuss how the University is supporting social mobility in the South West and raising the aspirations of school children, young people and other prospective students around the world.

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