Interview with Eleanor Dove on the occasion of the AHEAD Congress

Interview with Eleanor Dove on the occasion of the AHEAD Congress

Eleanor Dove is a Widening Participation Officer at Lancaster University. She runs a number of different programmes to support young people from underrepresented backgrounds in making informed decisions about Higher Education. As part of her role, she has utilised her research and analytical skills to create evidence-based initiatives to support young people from the British South Asian community and Islamic Faith Schools in accessing university. She also co-presents on a local radio show, Education Matters, to increase community engagement.

Her seminar will explore educational outreach and engagement beyond academia and research, and how transferable skills from master’s and PhD programmes can support career development in non-academic positions.


Hi Eleanor, please tell us about the work you are doing at Lancaster University to inform young people from underrepresented backgrounds about Higher Education

So I work on a number of different inatives at Lancaster University and we are a very collaborative team so I also get to take part in sessions on other projects too. I lead on the Role Model Ambassador Programme and the Realising Opportunities Lancaster programme. The Role Model Ambassador programme is a research led project working with young people from British South Asian communities in the North West of England and Islamic Faith schools. I work with a team of incredible students who are Role Model Ambassadors for their communities and Higher Education, they use their own lived experiences to create authentic and informative sessions all Education and breaking down barriers and stereotypes. Lancaster is also part of the Realising Opportunities programme which is a collaboration of 14 Universities working together to further social and geographic mobility. Our Lancaster cohort of students are based in Lancashire, Cumbria, and London. Working with current university students we provide sessions on academic skills, pastoral support, and information and guidance about university life to support students on making a decision and transitioning to higher education. One of my favourite sessions is on referencing, such a key skill that can be very intimidating! We break it down with lots of examples and fin activities for students when they are aged 16/17 so they are confident when they start university.

In your experience, do people from underrepresented backgrounds have less access to Higher Education, and if so, which are the main circumstances that cause that?

There are lots of circumstances that can be a barrier to a student being able to access education. Finances and worries about finances are a huge concern for a lot of students and often a barrier if they don’t know how to access funding or aren’t able to apply for funding. Students might not see university as a place for them as there is a perception that universities are for middle and upper class white students so worries about racism and classism can also be a barrier. Students who are the first in their family to go to university often have to navigate a lot of systems and make decisions without being able to ask family members for advice and so might feel overwhelmed. Students with disabilities or health conditions often worry they won’t be supported in higher education or that there won’t be any adjustments to ensure their course is accessible and that can be a huge barrier to applying.

Students from underrepresented backgrounds at university have the ability and ambition to go to university and the barriers are from society. There is a myth that universities need to do work to raise aspirations but these students already have high aspirations, universities need to do work to ensure that barriers do not prevent them reaching those goals and that they are supported in making decisions.

Could you tell us if you have any project targeted at women from such communities and explain a bit about it?

The Role Model Ambassador programme initially started with a research project conducted with Dr Talib examining the barriers specifically experienced by British South Asian women in the North West of England. We worked with all girls schools and in particular Islamic Faith girls schools. The findings of the research highlighted how highly the girls valued education and the need to match up the girls with current students so they could share about their own experiences. The programme has elements of informal mentoring for the girls but we also expanded it to include a formal medicine mentoring strand.

Can you also tell us about Education Matters, the local radio show. How did you come up with the idea of it?

I can’t take any credit for the idea as that was all my colleague Dr Talib, she's absolutely incredible at recognising ways we can promote education in different formats. The idea of the programme is we are showcasing on local radio to the communities we work with that education is a life long journey. We speak to a range of guests from students, academics, driving instructors , health care workers, police officers, museum officers, professionals in all sorts of fields, about their own education journey and advice to listeners about starting or changing careers or education trajectories. We aim to keep the show light and informative and something people can listen to during school pick ups. We also celebrate local education achievements and the schools we work with. We’ve recently started turning the interviews into podcasts, you can have a listen here:

Finally, have you been able to measure if the efforts you are making at Lancaster University are being successful?  

Evaluation and Impact is a huge part of my role. We evaluate all our work both qualatively and quantatively using feedback exercises, questionnaires, focus groups, and tracking engagement on the programmes. We do also work with alumni of the programmes if they choose to come to Lancaster University and recently we’ve also started evaluating the impact the programmes have on the current students involved in the activities.


Thanks for doing such an inspiring an impactful job,

We are looking forward to attending your seminar at AHEAD!

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