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Royal Holloway student highlighted in new campaign celebrating those being the first in their family to attend university

Royal Holloway student highlighted in new campaign celebrating those being the first in their family to attend university

  • Date15 April 2024

The success of a student from Royal Holloway, University of London, who was the first in their family (FiF) to attend university, is being highlighted in a new national campaign, 100 Faces, led by Universities UK.

UUK 100 Faces

Sana Rehman, a BSC Criminology and Psychology student at Royal Holloway, was selected as one of Universities UK’s higher education trailblazers and tells her university journey story.

Sana said: “Being part of the Universities UK 100 Faces campaign and having my story highlighted feels like stepping into a spotlight of empowerment, where my voice resonates with purpose and possibility.”

“It's a testament to the strength of community and the power of storytelling to inspire change. I'm honoured to be part of this movement and to share my journey with others.”

The campaign amplifies the voices of first-generation students by exploring their background, what they’re doing now, and how going to university changed their lives. The campaign aims to:

  • Champion and celebrate the positive impact of ‘first-in-the-family’ (FitF) graduates in the UK, including: England footballer Beth Mead, Lord David Blunkett, Nobel Prize winner Sir Chris Pissarides and actor Amit Shah - in order to highlight the need for access to support to ensure the next generation can reach their graduate potential.
  • Reveal research about the transformative impact on ambition of going to university (74%), with almost three quarters (73%) of FitF students agreeing their degree gave them the confidence to apply for jobs without feeling like an imposter.
  • Highlight FiF students’ reliance on depreciating financial support. According to Universities UK, without financial support, over 4 in 10 FitF graduates couldn’t have afforded to go to university at all. This is equivalent to around 1.1 million 24–40-year-olds in England and Wales.
  • Highlight, with financial provisions dwindling and the cost of living rising, how UUK is calling for government to reinstate maintenance grants and increase support for future students

These findings come from extensive new research, commissioned by Universities UK, into the experiences of 6,004 UK graduates and 4,006 non-graduates, aged 24-40, from across the UK.

The success of students like Sana is testament to the extraordinary role university can play – particularly for those students who are the first in their family to attend and face significant barriers before they even set foot on campus. Despite this inequality, FiF students flourish at university – with three quarters of FiF respondents saying their experiences at university made them more confident and ambitious, and gave them broader life experiences and crucial life skills which continue to be impactful long after graduation.

However, the research also pointed to the need for uplifted financial support to ensure that FiF students are able to progress. Over four in 10 (41%) FiF students believe that without financial assistance they wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to university, and when non-graduates from across the UK were asked what might have persuaded them to attend university, almost half (48%) responded more financial support.

Many graduates responding to this survey were eligible for non-repayable maintenance grants as students, which were replaced by repayable loans in England in 2016, although maintenance grants continue to operate in Wales, Scotland and for some healthcare courses in England.

In light of this, UUK is campaigning to highlight the achievements of the extraordinary FiF graduates in every community, and to ensure that future generations don’t miss out on the transformative impact of a university education.  

Professor Julie Sanders, Vice-Chancellor and Principal at Royal Holloway, added: “We are extremely proud of all our students, and commend those like Sana who have achieved the momentous accolade of being the first in their family to attend university.

“Stories like Sana’s highlight the importance of a university education and the opportunities it can give, regardless of your background. The 100 Faces campaign is an excellent platform to highlight how people have overcome adversity and paved new paths to gain a degree and experience university life. Sana is a truly inspirational role-model who I am privileged to know and I hope her story inspires others to explore the next step in their educational journey.”

Vivienne Stern MBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “There are those who say that too many people go to university. I disagree. These stories tell you why. In this country you are still twice as likely to go to university if you are from the wealthiest background, compared to the least wealthy. That’s not right.”

“The experiences of students who are the first in their families to have been to university tell a powerful story. I am amazed by how many graduates talked about having imposter syndrome – and the way that earning a degree helped to banish that feeling. I believe we have a responsibility to keep working to ensure a wider range of people in this country get access to the potentially transformative experience of going to university. For that to happen, we really do need to see an improvement in maintenance support to support those from the least privileged backgrounds.”

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