The second cohort of students to undertake the ASPIRE (Accomplished Study Programme in Research Excellence) programme were celebrated at an event at Sheffield Hallam University.
The programme is a four-year research project led by Sheffield Hallam University in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University and Advance HE, aiming to address the underrepresentation of black and black heritage research students.
It is funded by the Office for Students and aims to equip participants with the skills they need to be able to access opportunities for doctoral-level study or enter graduate-level jobs.
Students are supported through a personalised six-month programme of mentorship, coaching and academic skills development.
The programme has successfully mentored 46 black scholars, of which nine have successfully secured PhD studentships. Another eight participants have graduated with distinction and first-class honours and transitioned into full-time employment.
Faith Ogala, who was one of the 2023 ASPIRE cohort, said: “This programme has impacted my life in so many ways. It has boosted my confidence, helped me meet with people who are like me and doing great things, and helped me gain skills outside of my education and curriculum.”
Victor Nweke, who also completed the programme, added: “The support we receive is unique and tailored to our needs and the challenges we face as black scholars.”
Professor David Shepherd, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “It was a privilege to attend the showcase event for the second cohort of participants in the ASPIRE project. The stories told – stories of adversity and achievement -- were inspiring and moving. But they were also a salutary reminder of just how far we still have to go before we reach true equality of opportunity and equity of outcome for black students. ASPIRE has a crucial role to play, and I look forward to continuing to support and to be challenged by the project and its leaders.”
Programme Lead and Principal Investigator of the ASPIRE programme, Dr Francis Awolowo, said: “I am grateful for the institutional support that we enjoyed both at Sheffield Hallam and MMU to pursue the ASPIRE agenda. Not to forget the incredible work of my project team who work tirelessly to make this project a huge success. This ground-breaking initiative is making a huge impact on the lives of Black scholars by breaking barriers to doctoral-level study. There is more to be done in ensuring that we give people equal opportunities irrespective of the colour of their skin but with the ASPIRE initiative we have made a bold step and commitment towards becoming anti-racist universities.”
The third cohort of ASPIRE participants will start in January 2024.