24 October 2013 17:29

Lancaster University’s efforts to open up higher education to all were praised by alumnus and former Government Minister Alan Milburn when he returned to campus to deliver a Public Lecture on Social Mobility.

His talk, entitled ‘What would make Britain more socially mobile?’, was attended by more than 150 people in the Faraday Lecture Theatre.

Before delivering his lecture, the former MP and Health Secretary took time to join the University’s outreach team in a widening participation programme session with staff and pupils from Morecambe Bay Community Primary and Lancaster University student mentors.

Both groups had time for candid conversations with Mr Milburn, who said he was ‘inspired’ by what he had heard. He added that he had been particularly impressed by the passion and commitment shown by the student mentors.

Lancaster University has a strong track record of delivering the opportunity of higher education to people with the potential to benefit from it, regardless of their background or circumstances.

Every year the university welcomes more than 6,000 students from schools and colleges across the UK to campus to take part in a range of exciting outreach activities, organised by the UK Student Recruitment and Outreach Office, LUSU Involve and the faculties.

Activities include residential schools, taster sessions and Junior University. The award-winning ‘Target Uni’ student mentoring scheme plays a key role in this and Mr Milburn was able to hear, first-hand, about the benefits from participating students.

“I have seen some really good examples of best practice today,” he explained. “The way in which Lancaster University gets students from here to go out to local schools in less advantaged communities to say a few simple things such as – it’s possible for you because it’s possible for me – is done really well.”

The best ambassadors to help open more doors and create more chances, he added, were the University’s students, both present and past.

He highlighted Lancaster University’s achievement in widening participation, particularly in the proportion of students recruited from state schools which, in 2012-13, was just short of 90%. Early indications for this year’s student intake suggest that this figure has increased to around 91%.

Mr Milburn, who has earned a reputation as a social mobility guru and ambassador, chairs the recently formed Commission on Social Mobility and Child Poverty which monitors the progress of government and others in improving social mobility and reducing child poverty in the UK.

Commenting on the Commission’s role, Mr Milburn said it acted as an advocate for social mobility beyond government by challenging employers, the professions and universities to play their part in improving life chances.

But, he stressed, it was about whether the right actions were being pursued rather than politics and policy. With the right approach, it was possible to prevent the potential life-chance gap widening.

After meeting Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mark E. Smith, Mr Milburn, who graduated in History from Lancaster in 1979, toured the campus, taking great delight in the many improvements of the last decade and noting that his former college, Pendle, once at the fringe of the campus, was now at its heart.

The campus, he added, was ‘almost unrecognisable in a good way’ from his student days in the 70s.

“The University has grown exponentially in both quantity and quality,” said Mr Milburn. “It is moving up the league tables and its doors are genuinely open to the widest pool of talent.”