The Lifelong Learning Centre is proud to have a group of Learning Champions who feel passionately about widening access to university for adults from areas of low participation in Higher Education. Learning Champions are mature students from backgrounds where going to university is not the norm, and who volunteer as role models to inspire others by sharing their own stories.
Learning Champions regularly take part in aspiration-raising events with adults on the University campus and at community venues. The people who attend these events consistently tell us that listening to the Learning Champions has encouraged them to consider HE as a realistic option.
Inspirational is not a powerful enough word for how impressed I was. She is rock-solid proof of what is possible – she had the same problems as me and gave me a real boost and great inspiration to really give it a go.
Adult learner at community event
The Learning Champions also raise community workers’ awareness of the possibilities of HE for adults. They work in contexts as diverse as education, health, children’s services, trades unions, jobs and skills, housing and the wider voluntary sector.
We work with a lot of people who assume that university or moving on in education is not for them… Our learners always reflect on how inspiring it is to listen to a student who is similar to them, maybe from the same area, might have three or four children, and is doing what they want to do; and actually seeing somebody doing it and organising their life around their studying, their family and their work sows the seed for them that ‘if they can do it, why can’t I do it?’. It really is a ‘light bulb’ moment for some people.
WEA Tutor, Wakefield
Through working with groups, the Learning Champions develop their confidence and communication skills and make links with a wide range of external organisations which enhances their employability and social capital. Volunteering in a group also introduces them to other mature students from across the university, leading to informal peer mentoring.
Learning Champion activities enable mature students to reflect on their life experience and to transform perceived barriers into a foundation for growth. They are broadening their social and political perspectives and using their voice to articulate how current policy affects their communities.
Two current Learning Champions volunteers were officially recognised during Adult Learners’ Week in 2014. You can read more about Emma McNamara here and Ray Whitaker here. Short video clips of some current Learning Champions talking about their work can be viewed on our YouTube channel.