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Portsmouth wins funding to change lives

Changing for the better: Professor Sherria Hoskins is leading a project which could be a game-changer for some of the worst off

Changing for the better: Professor Sherria Hoskins is leading a project which could be a game-changer for some of the worst off

Disadvantaged students are to benefit from a new project, led by the University of Portsmouth, which aims to challenge stereotypes to raise the expectations of students and their teachers and to build belief in their abilities.

The project, run by Professor Sherria Hoskins, Dean of Science at the University of Portsmouth, has been awarded £500,000 by Hefce, the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

She and Dr Jessica Gagnon, senior research fellow in the University’s School of Education and Childhood Studies, will lead the project with 5,200 university students and 800 university staff who work with them at five universities.

The students who will benefit are from the groups least likely to apply to university and, if they do attend, most likely to drop out, or not perform well academically, despite entering with excellent qualifications.

The main aim of the project is to try and close the attainment gap in black and minority ethnic groups and those from the working class.

The changing mindsets project includes helping overturn sometimes deeply-held beliefs and prejudices that an individual can’t achieve, and replacing it with an understanding that the ability to do things grows through effort and by embracing challenges. It has been reported to have had a profound effect on children and their teachers in previous trials.

Professor Hoskins said: “This is the first time a group of UK universities have joined forces to trial a project which has the potential to eradicate the impact of stereotype threat on performance in university students.

“I am delighted to have won funding; it underlines the urgent need to find out why some people who are more than capable intellectually of studying at university so often fail to complete their courses, or do so with lower grades.  It is not acceptable to continue to accept the achievement gap between students who enter with similar grades.

“Our belief is that growth mindset techniques – which is relatively simple to apply – will help change the culture in higher education institutions, by working with students and teaching staff.

“We expect the results will help bring about a sea change for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who have the potential to study and do extremely well at university.”

The project will run from this September at student and staff workshops at the University of Portsmouth, University of the Arts, London, Canterbury Christ Church University, University of Brighton, and University of Winchester.

Experts at all five universities will work with students and their teachers on changing mindsets, bias reduction and habit breaking. Advice is also being received from Professor Patricia Devine, who has worked on successfully scaling up implicit bias and habit-breaking interventions in higher education in the US.

The team aims to develop a social media community of learning and digital toolkits for staff at other universities to use as part of continuing professional development.

The first results of the two-year study are expected in June 2018, and will include data on individuals’ perceptions and any changes they’ve made or noticed, alongside the number of disadvantaged students who complete their course and their average grades compared to similar groups’ results in the same and previous years.

Professor Hoskins and Dr Gagnon wrote the bid with support and guidance from Professor Paul Hayes, Fiona Loughran, Kate Smith and Sam Bowden.


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