New campaign highlights the success of first generation students

The success of students who were the first in their families to attend university is being highlighted in a new campaign, led by Universities UK

Amit Shah in his honorary doctor robes

The 100 Faces campaign celebrates first generation students, including Staffordshire University gradautes Amit Shah and Ellie Bowers

Staffordshire University is very close to my heart. The whole of Staffordshire University have been so supportive over the years – it’s where it all started for me in a way.

Amit Shah, actor

UUK’s ‘100 Faces campaign’ aims to champion and celebrate the positive impact of ‘first-in-the-family’ (FitF) graduates in the UK – including England footballer Beth Mead, Lord David Blunkett, Nobel Prize winner Sir Chris Pissarides and actor Amit Shah.

Amit Shah graduated with a degree in Drama from Staffordshire University in 2001 and has since performed on stage and screen, including TV shows ‘Happy Valley’, ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Dr Who’ and most recently ‘Mr Bates vs the Post Office’.

In 2023, Amit returned to Staffordshire University to receive an honorary degree recognising him as a role model to Staffordshire University students and graduates and for giving back to the University community by delivering workshops and guest lectures.

The actor will return to Staffordshire University for its next Open Day Saturday 8 June to inspire the next generation of prospective students.

Amit said: “The Staffs Uni experience was a crucial platform for me to build my foundations as an actor and from which I could really launch myself towards my dream of performing.

“Staffordshire University is very close to my heart. The whole of Staffordshire University have been so supportive over the years – it’s where it all started for me in a way.”

In 2023, 62.9% of Staffordshire University students were first in their family to go to university.

Last summer, Ellie Bowers graduated with a first class degree in BSc (Hons) Professional Policing and is now a Police Constable with Staffordshire Police.

“Going to University was always something I had dreamed about since I was a little girl and I knew that I wanted to stay local and study, so Staffordshire University was the perfect place for me to go,” said the 22-year-old from Lightwood, Stoke-on-Trent.

“Being the first person in my family to go to university was scary as I didn’t know what to expect but my family, partner and friends are all so proud of me.

“I am so grateful that I was able to go to university because the difference it has made to my life is invaluable. The degree in Professional Policing has allowed me to grow both professionally and personally and, as a result of this, I have developed my confidence immensely and have gained the skills I need to be a good officer.”

New research commissioned by UUK has revealed the transformative impact of going to university on ambition (74%), with almost three quarters (73%) of FitF students agreeing their degree gave them the confidence to apply for jobs without feeling like an imposter.

However the research also highlights FitF students’ reliance on depreciating financial support - without financial support, over 4 in 10 FitF graduates couldn’t have afforded to go to university at all. This is equivalent to around 1.1 million 24–40-year-olds in England and Wales.

With financial provisions dwindling and the cost of living rising, UUK is calling for government to reinstate maintenance grants and increase support for future students.

The success of students like Amit and Ellie is testament to the role university can play in helping students achieve their ambitions. Despite this inequality, FitF students flourish at university – with three quarters of FitF respondents saying that their experiences at university made them more confident and ambitious, gave them broader life experiences and crucial life skills which continue to be impactful long after graduation.

Vivienne Stern MBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK, commented: “There are those who say that too many people go to university. I disagree. These stories tell you why. In this country you are still twice as likely to go to university if you are from the wealthiest background, compared to the least wealthy. That’s not right.

“The experiences of students who are the first in their families to have been to university tell a powerful story. I am amazed by how many graduates talked about having imposter syndrome – and the way that earning a degree helped to banish that feeling. I believe we have a responsibility to keep working to ensure a wider range of people in this country get access to the potentially transformative experience of going to university. For that to happen, we really do need to see an improvement in maintenance support to support those from the least privileged backgrounds.”

Anyone interested in studying at Staffordshire University can register for its next Open Day Saturday 8 June here.


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