St. Mary’s University College – Widening access and participation

St Mary's Belfast

St Mary’s is a small, specialist, distinctive and high-performing institution, academically integrated with Queen’s University Belfast. Situated on the Falls Road in the west of the city, the College currently offers three undergraduate courses: a fouryear BEd (Hons) in Primary Teaching, a four-year BEd (Hons) in Post- Primary Teaching (Secondary)—both include speciIc subject studies—and a three-year BA (Hons) Liberal Arts degree, which includes modules in Human Development Studies, International Studies and a range of other subject options. St Mary’s has been involved in teacher education since 1900 and has a sterling reputation for academic excellence and exceptional levels of pastoral care. It is for this reason that St Mary’s recently has been awarded the title of “Top Specialist Institution” in Fe Guardian University Guide.

St Mary’s University College is a special place for another reason. At a time when equal access to higher education is viewed as a national priority by the Department of Education and Skills in the South and by the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland, St Mary’s is leading the way. At St Mary’s, participation of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds is 41%, with Inancial assistance provided to 43% of students. Additional funds, generated from variable fees, are used to provide Inancial assistance to students from lower-income families, to introduce a wide range of outreach measures and to improve our teaching and learning infrastructure. Disability support is given to 2.5% of the student population, and the retention and progression rate for new undergraduate entrants is a healthy 95%.

While these Igures are currently higher than the UK and the Northern Ireland average, St Mary’s is determined to do even beJer and has a proactive approach to targeting underrepresented groups: “Creating inclusive opportunities for the development of the whole person through access to higher education is central to our mission and informs our selection, recruitment and retention of students” (St Mary’s Widening Access and Participation Plan: 2014-17, p. 2).

Over the next three years, St Mary’s will contribute to the Department of Employment and Learning’s regional strategy (Skills to Succeed: Reach Higher) by focusing on students from lower-income families and students with disabilities, but also by speciIcally targeting adult learners and young males from the lower-income families. To achieve its objectives, the College has a dedicated Widening Access and Participation Officer who provides information to potential student groups, their families, schools, careers teachers and careers advisors. Outreach activities that promote access and participation are focused on raising aspirations and aJainment as well as encouraging, recruiting and supporting students from under-represented groups as they progress towards, and through, higher education. For example, the College Volunteer Reading Programme aims to raise literacy levels among primary school children in disadvantaged areas, and the Easter School beneIts disadvantaged post-primary students struggling to achieve grade C in either GCSE Mathematics or GCSE English. In addition, St Mary’s also has a dedicated Student Support Officer who has particular responsibility for assisting students with disabilities. Froughout the year, College staff and student volunteers work alongside school pupils or become “peer mentors” in an aJempt to make a real difference. Many of our students have experienced disadvantage and are determined to give back and help others “reach higher” and achieve the dream of entry into higher education.

To find out more, go online to
or contact:
Academic Registry
St Mary’s University College
191 Falls Road
Belfast BT12 6FE
Tel: (+44) 02890268320