Young people who have been in the care of local authorities are the worst represented group of learners in British universities, with less than seven per cent of care leavers in Higher Education at the age of 19. And, once at university, this small group of students face pressures that are largely unknown, and often unimagined, by their peers. We have a strong record here, recruiting a significantly higher proportion of care leavers to our University. And we are fortunate that the City of Salford is known as one of the best local authorities in the country for its support of children in care. Nonetheless, there is much still to do if we are to provide these potential students with all the support that they need, and to which they are entitled.
A new study suggests that students from less affluent backgrounds do less well at university than their peers from better off households, despite having equivalent school results when they first enrol. Given that more than 40 per cent of our students are from low income households and are first in their family to attend university, this is an important reminder of the importance of the constant consideration of our teaching, assessment systems and student support services.
Next month we’ll be holding our first Winter Graduation ceremony; from now on this will be a fixture in our annual academic calendar. The ceremonials of graduation are more popular then ever before. Why?
Graduation is a rite of passage, part of the ritual of progressing from learning to work. Ceremonies are multi-generational, celebrated with parents and grandparents. Transitions such as these require appropriate grandeur, making the day special. It once was unfashionable to graduate; a sell-out to the establishment, a distraction from real life. The certificate could be sent on in the post. Not any more.
Universities love tradition, and Chancellors, maces and graduation processions are part of the way that we celebrate our students’ success. In appointing Jackie Kay as our University’s new Chancellor, we are both respecting tradition and changing the role in ways that meet the needs of our contemporary world.
Jackie Kay MBE is a distinguished poet, storyteller, novelist and public figure. Her autobiography – Red Dust Road – is a story of the fusion of cultures and nationalities and a testimony to the power of the creative imagination. As our Chancellor she will inspire our staff, work with our students to help them imagine their future selves and strengthen our role as a civic institution in our wider community. In this honorary position, she will exemplify the role played by the traditional Chancellor here, and at other universities.
Our University has a great tradition of music, both in composition and performance. So when Daniel Thompson came up with the idea of founding a new ensemble, open to all students and staff, this was a natural project to support.
Danny is an unstoppable force. Currently completing his Masters in music performance, he’d used every opportunity to learn to play a range of instruments before he’d left school. After a period of playing with various pit orchestras supporting musical theatre productions around Yorkshire, he spent a while sleeping on the floor of a friend’s room in Castle Irwell. Having cheerfully contravened our rules and regulations, he decided to have a go at auditioning for a place on our Music programme. He’s not looked back since.