Nursing studies

BME students benefit from high achievers scheme

Initiative recognises that gifted students need support to reach their full potential

Initiative recognises that gifted students need support to reach their full potential


Academic lead Juliette Gaunt (second from right) with (L-R) Karamjit Narewal,
Charlie Banister, Marsha DeSouza-Williamson and Lisa Smith

Nursing students, including those from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds, are benefiting from an award-winning initiative at Birmingham City University.

Launched almost three years ago, the High Achievers Recognition Scheme (HARS) supports those who have attained good academic results or made significant educational progress since they joined the university.

‘Our student population is hugely varied, so we wanted a scheme that reflected our local identity,’ says the scheme’s faculty academic lead Juliette Gaunt. ‘For example, many are the first in their family to go to university, and we have a high proportion of women, mature and BME students.

Two routes into the scheme

‘We didn’t want something where we only worked with the top-flight elite, so there are two routes into the scheme – one for high achievers and another for those who have travelled a journey, perhaps starting with slightly less or different qualifications.’

Based in the institution’s faculty of health, education and life sciences, the scheme started with around 250 students. This autumn almost 800 have been invited to join, with 300 or so more expected in January. A majority are nursing and midwifery students, alongside those studying allied healthcare and education.

‘The scheme is unique in the UK,’ says Ms Gaunt. ‘In higher education we don’t invest in these higher-achieving students because we assume they’ll be okay, but we’re challenging that notion.

Bespoke support

‘We offer a level of bespoke support that nurtures and develops them to become their best selves and the future leaders of the workforce in health and education.’

Offering a range of seminars, workshops, coaching and mentoring, HARS is built on four different strands of development: personal and leadership, voluntary and community opportunities, international – such as applying for travel scholarships – and advanced academic and professional skills.

Five scholarships were also introduced in 2017, with four being awarded to nursing students.

‘We provide the cornerstones’

Students are helped to identify what’s best for them at each point in their development, explains Ms Gaunt. ‘Some access everything on offer, while others focus on the career planning or are only interested in volunteering. We don’t prescribe what they should do but we provide the cornerstones and support to help them choose.’

All students who join the scheme benefit from being acknowledged and valued, she believes. ‘Being welcomed onto it has positive gains for their motivation and aspiration,’ says Ms Gaunt.

‘Those from BME backgrounds say they wouldn’t have had access to these kinds of opportunities. It’s giving them more skills, knowledge and a heightened self-awareness, so they can go out and be more successful. Its impact has been incredible.’

Boost in self-confidence

Adult nursing student Marsha DeSouza-Williamson believes HARS has been instrumental in boosting her self-confidence.

‘I’m a quiet person who doesn’t seek the limelight,’ says Ms DeSouza-Williamson, who started her course in January 2017, gaining mostly distinctions in her first year of study. ‘I thought this was something that could help me to be more outspoken and put myself forward more.’

A session on public speaking proved particularly useful. ‘It was at the time I was doing my poster presentation,’ recalls Ms DeSouza-Williamson, who is from an African-Caribbean background.

Practical skills

‘It helped me to feel so much more confident. Through the scheme, you can gain some very practical skills. It offers many opportunities for personal development, setting goals for yourself. I have grown so much.’

In August, HARS was recognised with a prestigious Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE) from the Higher Education Academy.

‘I feel very proud of the team that has worked hard to get here,’ says Ms Gaunt. ‘The scheme is driven by the students and they are central to its success.’

The CATE award will be presented to the winning team at Birmingham City University at a ceremony in November in Edinburgh.


Lynne Pearce is a freelance health journalist

Further information

High Achievers Recognition Scheme (HARS)

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