Supporting outreach at the University of Birmingham with subject-specific tuition

Case study from Laura Taylor, Outreach Officer, University of Birmingham

We’ve been working with the University of Birmingham since 2017 to support their ambitious outreach activities, which focus primarily on students in the West Midlands who have the potential to achieve success at university, but for a variety of reasons, may not have considered higher education a possibility.

The University runs an extensive range of programmes for prospective students and their influencers, starting from primary school through to post-16 – with MyTutor being one strand of their Y13 support.

Where does MyTutor fit into your outreach activities?

“We have a  very well established Y13 programme called ‘Access to Birmingham’ (A2B), which has been running for many years and is for students who are in the process of submitting an application to the University.”

“To qualify for A2B, students need to meet specific socioeconomic eligibility criteria. Once on the scheme, they receive an alternative offer combined with some additional activity that helps them to make a successful transition to university-level study. They are also eligible for additional financial support.”

“We’re continually monitoring students’ progress through the programme. A few years ago, we noticed that there were still a number of A2B students who weren’t meeting their offer grades and so weren’t able to join the University. To try to address this problem, we’ve piloted a few different academic support programmes, which is where MyTutor fits in – as a way of helping students to achieve the grades to progress.”

What are the biggest challenges you face when it comes to successfully progressing students through to application and offer acceptance?

“There are a number of barriers we commonly see: sometimes it’s support from home, because parents or guardians aren’t necessarily aware of what students need to do to get the grades needed to access university. Sometimes it is lack of access to information, advice and guidance to support decision making. We are also conscious that we are a selective university with high entry grades.”

The student view

We conducted a survey of students enrolled in the MyTutor tuition programme and found that 4 in 5 felt:

  • They understood their subject better
  • More confident about their A-Levels
  • More confident about university
Madiya, who applied to study Pharmacy at the University of Birmingham and received tuition in chemistry and biology, spoke to us about her experience:

“Chemistry is the subject I struggle with most. Josh (my Chemistry tutor) studies Natural Sciences at Cambridge, so he really knows what he’s talking about. I’d been avoiding revising Chemistry, but after one session with Josh I got loads better because he’d broken it down for me and showed me I could do it.”

“Having tuition online was great – I actually think online is better because you don’t have to travel. I cannot even tell you how amazing Michaela (my biology tutor) is, she had a really nice personality and gave me additional notes and tips about university. I really looked forward to having tuition every week – it’s been a really big help and I don’t know what I would have done without it!”

How do you think the MyTutor programme has impacted your prospective students?

“Our early evaluation suggests there is evidence of improved performance in the tutored subject compared to students’ non-tutored subjects, dependent on the number of sessions engaged with. We’re continuing to build on early findings with additional cohort data.”

“We have adapted our approach over time and, to maximise the number of sessions a student can receive before examinations, we now allow students to begin tutoring when they receive an offer from us and before they have accepted that offer.”

“We don’t tend to receive many queries from students about the MyTutor platform – students seem to find it easy to work with and are able to use it in a self-directed way.”

Would you recommend MyTutor to other universities?

“It’s definitely something that other universities might want to consider as an attainment raising activity. As a team, our work tends to be focused more on general outreach and aspiration-raising activity, while MyTutor provides additional subject-specific support.”

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