THE University of Portsmouth is looking to play a fundamental role in increasing the proportion of the city’s young people aspiring to further education.
Historically the city has had one of the lowest university entry rates in England. However this is beginning to change with one in ten of the city’s 18 to 24 year olds currently enrolled at the university.
For university vice-chancellor, Professor Graham Galbraith, it is not just about getting students to enrol at Portsmouth but ensuring they fulfil their potential by considering the option of a university education.
‘If we don’t get our own residents engaged in higher education, whether here in Portsmouth or other institutions across the country, then we would be failing in our purpose,’ he said.
The vice-chancellor feels that one of the biggest challenges is to change a historical culture of educational value.
It is a culture borne of industrial tradition in which young people would historically follow previous generations into the heavy industries that were prevalent in the city.
He said: ‘Portsmouth has faced the same challenge as my home city of Glasgow. Historically there has been a poor rate of university participation in the city.
‘It is important we connect with families who don't see education as important – people who think education is not needed. One of our key roles is to develop the aspirations of young people here in the city.’
It is this rationale of engaging young people, who may not have otherwise considered higher education, which was in part behind the recent sponsorship partnerships that the university has entered into. As reported in The News, the university now has a three-year deal supporting both the men’s and women’s Pompey football teams.
Speaking at the time of the announcement, Prof Galbraith highlighted the potential educational value of the partnership.
‘We’re delighted that the university has such a strong relationship with both the women’s and men’s first teams.
‘The connection between football and education is very powerful.
‘It not only encourages and inspires people to play the sport they love, but helps raise aspirations, breaks down social barriers and improve the life-chances of local young people.’
Prof Galbraith hopes this connection will help to engage a wider spectrum of the city’s young people.
The vice-chancellor said: ‘The deal offered us a rare chance to connect with communities that other access schemes were never going to reach.
‘We're working with schools, but the fact is, whatever we're doing, we're not getting the message across to these communities in Portsmouth.
‘Every youngster now kicking a ball round in a Portsmouth shirt is going to be wearing the name of the university.’
In particular, the university hopes the partnership will help create a connection with the demographic least likely to apply for higher education – white working class boys.
In the last academic year there were 54 per cent fewer boys from low income families who applied to university compared to girls.
Prof Galbraith is hoping to help address this issue by engaging youngsters through involving the players in university open days and outreach events.
‘Us simply telling these young people about higher education is not the answer,’ he said.
‘Linking up with the football club, using their icons in the work we do around schools will help to potentially engage these young people.
The connection between the football club and engaging the educational aspirations of the city’s young people is something which also attracted Pompey owner Michael Eisner.
Mr Eisner has said he wants to use the strong ‘emotional connection’ with people in the city to influence and improve levels of education.
He said: ‘We want to help increase participation rates in higher education in areas of the city where football has an emotional connection.
‘It instinctively felt right. As soon as the potential partnership with the university was mentioned I wanted to work with them at almost any price.
‘The club is so intertwined with the life of the city, more than most clubs. The health of the city is the health of the club.’
In addition to football, the university has actively looked to engage young people through being pro-active in local schools and colleges.
Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor Mark Cooper said: ‘We have a partnership with Portsmouth College in which our students act as mentors and have the opportunity to speak to pupils about what university life is like.
‘Hopefully this can help to breakdown the barriers some young people have regarding university.’
Ultimately, Prof Galbraith believes increasing the aspirations of local young people to attend university is crucial for the future prosperity of the city.
‘Education is the foundation of a prosperous community and by working together we can encourage young people to consider futures they may not have believed achievable in the past,’ he said.
Mr Eisner added: ‘The university in particular is essential in providing educational courses that drive many aspects of the local economy.’
With 10 percent of the city’s young people currently enrolled at the university and an increasing number applying to enter higher education, it is a rationale which appears to be working.