Fiona Hill’s story is an incredible example of widening access. Hill was born in the old mining town of Bishop Auckland, northern England during the post-industrial decline in the UK. In her 2021 personal memoir, There is Nothing For You Here, Hill tells of her family’s struggles after her father lost his job as a miner and documents her path from this humble background to advisor to the US President. Hill’s story involves school and university widening access initiatives and scholarships and sees her obtain degrees from the University of St Andrews and Harvard.
Her story also includes other early influences including her father’s advice, summarised in her biography’s title, and her cousin who had gone to university as a childhood role model. These informal influences give insight into how access to university can be achieved for those without the “traditional student” background.
Universities play a vital role in promoting social change and widening access to higher education, but outreach activities usually begin when students reach the pipeline to making post-school choices. By then, all the evidence indicates that there have been significant influences on life trajectory that determine if they reach this point, and these are hard to overcome.
The Case for Early Intervention
Children as young as seven have already restricted their job or life choices based on their gender, ethnicity, or social background. Additional levers need to be utilised to promote social change earlier in a child’s development to put university and the associated social and economic gains onto their horizons.
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