Evaluation of community mentoring programme to increase access to higher education and lifelong learning

This case study outlines the results of a recent evaluation of a community mentoring programme aimed at increasing access to higher education and lifelong learning for underrepresented groups.

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In recent decades, there has been growing recognition of the importance of fostering links between the university and the community. Activities to ensure deeper and more meaningful engagement between the university and community – referred to as ‘university-community partnerships’ – have included various research and real-world problem-solving initiatives.

One recent university-community initiative that the UNIC partner institution University College Cork (UCC) has been involved in is the development of a community mentoring programme – the Certificate in Continuing Professional Development in Community Based mentoring. This programme was developed for community-based mentors in their efforts to support underrepresented groups to access lifelong learning and higher education. The initiative was developed through a higher education institution (HEI)-Community partnership comprising UCC, Munster Technological University (MTU), Cork City Learning Neighbourhoods and the Cork Migrant Centre. The core aim of this partnership was to collaborate on devising and delivering strategies to increase access to higher education for underrepresented groups.

As part of this initiative, a new evaluation report has now been published based on research conducted between November 2021 and February 2022. Among its findings, the evaluation highlights the importance of a co-equal and reciprocal approach for successful university-community partnerships and the benefits of a collaborative design and open approach to lecture content. Students of the mentoring programme reported that it gave them the skills and confidence to become mentors in their communities, and they highlighted the “critical consciousness” needed to encourage others to consider further/higher education and lifelong opportunities.

Recommendations of the evaluation study include the:

  • Need for sustained support for community mentoring programmes to increase access pathways into further learning;
  • Importance of building confidence as a bedrock of student experience and of developing networking opportunities among student and graduate cohorts to help foster such confidence;
  • Value of flexible approaches to lectures and lecture content for the development of mentoring knowledge and skills;
  • Need to equip students with the core values of a civically engaged university community and to embed these graduate attributes into future practice and iterations of the programme.


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