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Breaking down barriers to education


For the International Day of Education, we take a look at the University’s long history of promoting access to education and how it continues to impact the lives of our students.

Graduates throw their caps in the air

Since our foundation in 1836, the University of London has been committed to widening access to education. We were the first university in the UK to welcome students from all faiths and the first to open its doors to women. In 2018, we marked this 150-year milestone with our Leading Women campaign, which promoted and reinforced the role of women in higher education.

A global innovator in transnational learning, we were the first university to give students the opportunity to study wherever they are in the world. Our distance and flexible learning programmes, supported with academic direction from the University’s world-class member institutions, mean that students around the world have the opportunity to study independently; fitting their studies around their lifestyle, their families, their work, and other commitments.

Our vision is to ensure that a University of London education remains accessible to all who wish to study. However, for many potential students the financial cost of pursuing higher education is a considerable barrier, meaning that those with the skill and drive to study for a degree are unable to do so. The University’s Scholarships Programme provides support to some of our most deserving students, allowing them not only to follow their dreams of higher education, but also to pursue careers that enrich their lives, and the lives of their families and communities.

For Abigail, pursuing further study was not something she had previously felt able to do. She was the first of her family to go to university and, as the primary income earner in a household of four, the financial constraints of studying for a degree were a significant barrier. Last year, Abigail was able to enrol in the BSc Computer Science course, with the help of support from the J&J Scholarship.

Reflecting on the support she has received, Abigail says, “There is no doubt that, had I not been offered this scholarship, I would not have been able to pursue this course. It has awarded me the opportunity to continue to support my family alongside my studies, without allowing the burden of fees to cause any barriers in my professional development. Technology has historically been a very male-dominated industry, so to be part of a small group of women who, hopefully, can pave the way for younger female generations, is something which I would take immense pride in.”

For many students like Abigail, a university education is not only an opportunity to fulfil their own potential and improve their lives, but also offers the chance to become part of the next generation of experts and make an impact on society.

Sylvester is another such example. He began studying for an MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies whilst living in Malawi, alongside working in the field for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Thanks to support he received through the Guy S. Goodwin-Gill Scholarship, he was able to complete the course and is now building a promising international career in refugee protection, working as Reporting Officer at the Africa Bureau of the UNHCR at their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. “Receiving this scholarship is one of the best things that has ever happened to me”, says Sylvester. “My ambition is to be a future leader in refugee protection. The scholarship has given me the opportunity to take another step towards this ambition.”

This year’s International Day of Education is a chance to celebrate the many ways in which learning can empower people and change lives. Through scholarships we can break down barriers to education and ensure that more students around the world can access opportunities that otherwise would have been closed to them, in turn allowing them to improve their lives and the lives of their communities through education.