Unblocking Potential at the Unusual Suspects Festival
As part of the Unusual Suspects festival, Social Innovation Exchange caught up with Dr Rosemary Moreland, who is the Senior lecturer in community development at Ulster University in Belfast.
They are running a community outreach course titled ‘Unblocking Potential’ which is an innovative way of ensuring education is available for all.
What is the Unblocking Potential programme?
The Unblocking Potential programme is a short community outreach course, which we developed in partnership with our Centre for Flexible and Continuing Education. It is about inspiring people, regardless of age, who may have had negative experiences of education in the past, to believe in themselves, to recognise the successful learning which they have gained, perhaps in informal settings and to build their skills and confidence in continuing into further and higher education.
Why was it important to create the programme?
The creation of the programme was important largely because it is unique, offering participants with no formal educational qualifications the opportunity to gain credits at university level. We believe that higher education should be available to all. We are a widening access university and are committed to recruiting non-traditional students. However, it is not enough to simply open the doors of the university – we believe that in order to enable those who would not normally come to university to consider it as an option, we first need to raise their aspirations, to believe that it is possible for them to achieve a third level qualification and to equip them with appropriate study skills and an understanding of their personal preferred learning styles.
What has been the impact so far?
This programme has been very successful in encouraging people who would not normally attend university to apply to higher education courses. The first Unblocking Potential programme was piloted in two secondary schools in North Belfast (Mercy College Girls and Boys Model), in 2012/13. 30 AS level students participated in the programme, of which only three were considering going to university. An evaluation of the programme indicated that all those students who continued into A2 the following year, applied to university and many were successful. The programme was then piloted to adult groups in the community and since the first pilot in 2014/15 in two communities; demand has increased to the point that it was run in 4 communities in 2015/16. This year, we have had enquiries from 6 communities. A number of these students embarked in further studies since completing the Unblocking Potential programme and approximately 10 are expected to commence the part-time BSc Hons Community Development in 2016/17.
Why is it important for you to work with your unusual suspects?
Our unusual suspects are everyday people, who contribute to the vibrancy and activities in their communities. The vast majority are volunteers in community and voluntary organisations, giving their time and energy freely to improve the quality of life for all those living in their communities. Our work with these people and the organisations in the community and voluntary sector gives external recognition to this active citizenship and places value on the skills and learning that participants have achieved through their voluntary work.
We very much look forward to welcoming Ulster University as participants of our Unusual Suspects Festival. Sign up here!
This interview first appeared on the Unusual Suspects Website.