Sir Michael Barber visits the Marine Building

The Chair of the Office for Students (OfS) has visited the University of Plymouth for the first time to learn first-hand about its work to champion positive social mobility.

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. 

The University has a long track record of supporting widening participation, such as through its award-winning partner college network, which was established in 1990 and stretches from Penzance to Jersey and Bristol.

Professor Judith Petts CBE, Vice-Chancellor, was joined by senior leaders including the Chair of the Board, Colin Drummond OBE, in welcoming Sir Michael to Plymouth. She said:

“We were delighted to host Sir Michael at the University and showcase some of the very important work we are doing to support positive 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 as well as supporting the development of higher education in those countries.”

During the visit, Sir Michael met students from Eggbuckland Community College and representatives of Next Steps South West, the OfS-funded Uni Connect programme, regionally coordinated by the University, which includes 14 of the biggest higher and further education institutions across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. 

Sir Michael spoke with members of the University’s Faculty of Health about the new foundation year for medicine, focused on providing opportunities to students who may not normally consider a medical career. He then took a tour of the Marine Building and several other research facilities to learn about how they’re being used to support education and employer engagement. And he completed his tour of the region by visiting South Devon College, one of the University's Academic Partners.

Sir Michael said: 

"Our universities and colleges can make a decisive contribution in securing greater social mobility for young people, and ensuring that all students have the opportunity to unlock their potential. Forging links with schools, employers, and other partners is essential to driving this change – this is why I was delighted to visit both the University of Plymouth and South Devon College. As always, it was helpful to meet with staff at both institutions and inspiring to hear from the hardworking and impressive students that I met."

Nearly 95% of the University’s students come from state schools, with around 15% from what are termed ‘low participation neighbourhoods’. Last year, the University undertook 385 outreach activities, interacting with 18,000 individuals – many at local schools – and it continues to lead the Children’s University for Devon and Cornwall.