University of Strathclyde



This pilot project was a collaboration between the History Department, Widening Access Team and the Careers Service. It sought to examine the transition experiences of widening access undergraduate History students. In particular, it aimed to assess the university experience of this cohort, and the extent to which the skills gained during their time at Strathclyde are relevant or fully utilised to improve their employability or better their career prospects.

Two student interns were appointed in August 2015 on a part-time basis. They undertook a literature review and designed a survey which current undergraduate University of Strathclyde History students were invited to complete. In addition to the survey, the interns interviewed four current History students to identify their perceptions of their degree and any associated barriers.

In order to examine the experiences of Widening Access students in particular, the survey included questions which allowed for the identification of certain Widening Access indicators. Students were regarded as Widening Access if they met one or more of the following criteria:

  • First generation of their immediate family to go to university
  • Attended a low progression to Higher Education school
  • Attended a SHEP school
  • Had a home postcode at point of application which was classed as Quintile 1 or Quintile 2 according to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD)
  • Had spent any time in local authority care
  • Were a mature student (aged 21 or over on the first day of their course at the University of Strathclyde)

The survey data therefore allowed for a comparison between the reported experiences of Widening Access students and non-Widening Access students. In some areas they reported very similar experiences, but in others there were notable differences.

The full research report is available below.

This work was supported by Enhancement Theme funding from the QAA.


Department of History

Contact Details

Al Blackshaw

Dr Stephanie McKendry


Student Transitions


Whilst we have data on students’ recruitment and retention to the University, we know relatively little about the university experience of students from Widening Access backgrounds at an institutional or subject level. This project sought to recognise this and begin gathering some data on the topic which could be used to enhance the student experience for future cohorts.


There were 145 respondents to the survey, 95 of whom exhibited at least one Widening Access indicator. This allowed us to identify some areas which caused common concern across all students, and some areas in which issues seemed to be exacerbated for Widening Access students. Key messages were extracted from the data to inform recommendations for improvements and ongoing support (the full research report is available below):

Placement and work experience

83% of respondents stated that a work placement would improve their employability. In view of this, the History department, Careers Service, and Widening Access team could work together to identify innovative placement opportunities which would allow students to enhance and articulate their employability skills. 

The development of skills

A large number of History students lack the confidence in their foreign language skills. Therefore it is recommended that foreign language classes and more foreign language learning opportunities are developed to allow History students to enhance this vital soughtafter skill. Confidence in academic skills is also an area that was highlighted as an issue from the survey data and the interview analysis. It is recommended that steps are taken to ensure that History students are aware of the provision of the Study Skills team, and that they are reminded of the expert support and guidance offered by this team on a regular basis.

Careers Service

An overwhelming majority of 74% History students have not yet used the Careers Service. However from analysis of the survey data and interview sessions it is apparent that many students feel that they are unsure or not confident in their knowledge of job opportunities, future employability and career routes. All of this information can be gained from the Careers Service and therefore it is recommended that the Careers Service increases its awareness on campus and advertises its services further so that students can take advantage of the expert guidance on offer.

Library services

It is recommended that the library services consider increasing the time of short term loan services and offer some flexibility or separate provision for students that are commuting to university, especially for those traveling long distances over long periods of time. It is recommended that academic staff are made aware of the burden that long commute times can have on students and are encouraged to be as flexible as possible, with regards to their circumstances. 

Expectations of university

The interview analysis has highlighted that students had varying levels of expectations before they came to university, and some of these expectations did not match with real academic life. Therefore it is recommended that the University continues to ensure that prospective students are made aware of the demands that degree level study involves, regardless of their academic background and entry-route. 


The interview analysis revealed that students felt a large amount of stress from assignments. To support students in their assignments during term-time it is recommended that assignment deadlines are not scheduled for the same week, where possible. NonWA students seem more stressed by assignments whilst WA students are more likely to worry about their finances. Therefore it is recommended that the University bears in mind the different forms of circumstances that could cause students stress, not only focusing on assignments but other needs such as financial circumstances. 

International exchange

The financial burden that an exchange creates is viewed as a barrier by a large majority of History students. It is recommended that the University promotes the available financial support packages and exchange opportunities from as early as first year, to raise awareness of the support that is available for students that wish to take part in an international exchange and to also provide students with time to plan and save additional funds.


Due to less than half of students reporting that they take part in volunteering activities it is recommended that the University continues to publish, advertise and promote various volunteering activities.  Since WA students are less likely to take part in volunteering it is recommended that some opportunities are created and aimed at that target audience, to help increase the number of WA students taking up volunteering opportunities.   

Lessons Learnt

Due to the difficulties experienced when attempting to engage graduates, it is suggested that a future project focus specifically on this group – attempting to include them within this wider study proved too ambitious for such a short-term project.


It was not possible, as initially hoped, to achieve a meaningful breakdown of experiences by year group. This is mainly due to the response size and timescales. Additionally, although graduates were approached and invited to take part in the project, unfortunately none of them came forward so we were unable to examine transitions into employment.


Two student interns were employed for this project. For future projects in a similar vein, one or two interns could be employed.

Suggestions for Transferability

Although the project only involved History students, many of their experiences, and therefore views, will be similar to other undergraduates, particularly those within other subject areas in HaSS. The recommendations in the report could therefore be considered by staff within other disciplines to determine whether they are applicable to their subject areas.

Student involvement

The project was very student focused. The interns designed the questionnaire themselves and also conducted the interviews. This project was viewed not just as an information gathering exercise for the University, but also a development opportunity for the interns. The interns were based within the Widening Access office, with ongoing support available from the Widening Access Support Coordinator in the first instance, and the wider team when he was out of the office.