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HE Knowledge Hub Podcast: Episode 4 – Barriers to HE

In this episode, we take a closer look at some potential barriers that might prevent progression into HE. We speak to four graduates who’ve experienced different obstacles in their journey through HE. Sometimes all it takes to break down a barrier is, inspiration and information.

Episode 4 – Barriers to HE

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Show Notes

Episode 4 – Barriers to HE

We know that there are a number of reason why students don’t progress on to study at HE level. Our mission is to challenge these barriers, to show that they needn’t affect your future, if studying at HE is something you want do. Some common barriers are:

  • HE is too expensive
  • Don’t know anyone else’s who’s studied at HE (you might hear the term ‘first generation uni goer’)
  • Not academic enough
  • Lack of confidence
  • Not knowing what you want to do, is a common barrier too

Not everyone commits to a 3 year degree course straight away, as you will hear…

Sometimes all it takes to break down a barrier is, information or inspiration, our website is packed with impartial information to help you find the path that’s right for you, from our resources with up to date information to blog pieces from current students, we have career finder tools and a course directory. The first episode of the HE knowledge Hub podcast focuses on sorting the facts from fiction about student finance.

This episode is a collection of inspiring stories from people who’ve first-hand experience of overcoming barriers to HE, they’ve been asked questions by Jenny who is part of the NSSW team, you may find that one of them overcame an issue you’re currently facing, so keep listening to find out how they found empowerment and what they’ve gone on to achieve after leaving HE.

Rose Hiron-Grimes is an Enterprise Coordinator at Wiltshire Council

  • Studied an Undergraduate Business Degree as a mature student at the age of 24. She chose to study business because she recognised it would give her skills and options – lots of things she could go into after studying
  • Rose was the first in her family to study at HE level, her parents weren’t academic role models, so she had to take the first step on the access course.
  • Had childcare to consider, having had her son at age 17, and leaving school with only GCSE level qualifications.
  • Worried about writing at degree level – student support services are there to help students
  • Like many people Rose found finances a barrier too, as she couldn’t work a lot whilst studying, so she took advantage of bursaries and grants, she says it’s difficult to ask but they’re there for a reason.
  • Completed an Access to HE course at college, but didn’t know what kind of job she wanted, just a better job.
  • Thinks that pushing herself to keep developing – gaining transferable skills, and being life-long learner is valuable, she gained lots of personal skills along the way. It was an informal mentor who spurred her on to apply for teaching jobs,
  • Volunteered with single parent charity, which she found confidence boosting, and it fitted around her home life.
  • Rose’s advice to anyone who lacks confidence about HE is, the more you ask for help and put yourself out there, the easier it is grow in confidence, this helped her to overcome imposter syndrome.

Alistair Haggerty is a Barrister at Guildhall Chambers

  • History at University of Oxford, a choice guided by what he enjoyed
  • Law conversion + Bar course
  • Thought that his speech impediment might hold him back from becoming a Barrister, but his experience at university showed him that there’s lots of support available, and that it needn’t be a worry.
  • Attending Open Days helped him understand the different types of university there are and what courses were on offer.
  • Alistair also talks about the networking opportunities that were available to him at university, the skills he developed and the importance of switching off and enjoying exercise.

Katie Cottle is a Freelance Illustrator

  • Illustration degree at the University of the West of England (UWE).
  • Thought University was only for people who wanted to do ‘brainier’ subjects/wanted to make lots of money, she didn’t know that art school was a viable path.
  • A Foundation course helped her figure out that illustration was her passion.
  • Doing a creative course at HE helped her build skills, learn to balance all aspects of the creative process.
  • University gave Katie the creative freedom to discover and develop her personal style. Lecturers encouraged students to enter competitions, and Katie won an award which started her career; gave her exposure, lead to getting an agent, won a book deal.
  • Considered staying at home, as a first generation university goer, her family couldn’t offer advice or tell her what living away from home would be like, there was anxiety about feeling homesick and leaving friends, she listened to friends’ experiences,
  • Prior to HE Katie said she was an anxious and shy person, but through doing things like organising an exhibition, involving working with peers to peers, galleries and clients, her confidence grew.
  • She now says – try not to be too anxious – scary at first but you get used to it, put the time and effort into the course and you can get lots out of it.

Mark Coles is an Accountant at Telefónica (O2)

  • Went to school in Burnham and Taunton
  • Did a Degree in Economics and Politics at Manchester University, then a Masters.
  • Mark was a first generation uni goerdidn’t have anyone to ask about HE,
  • Enjoyed meeting different people.
  • He took part in Economics and Social Sciences societies, and carried out fundraising, which is good experience to talk about at interviews.
  • Communication skills are particularly in a virtual world, to build a rapport quickly with someone you’ve never met in person. Presentation skills – articulating clearly, logical thinking, questioning ability.
  • Mark had the opportunity to go Belgium to talk at the European Parliament and represented the EU at a conference in Argentina, meeting people from all over the world.
  • He says that HE teaches you about your own character, he learnt independence and says don’t be afraid of failure.
  • Say yes to opportunities! University is for anyone – there’s a huge spectrum of people there, there isn’t a ‘type’ of person for university.


  • Disabled Student – you will have heard that there is a Disabled Student Allowance that you can apply for, you could be eligible for this if you have a disability that affects your ability to study, the list includes the below but is not limited to it, find out more about eligibility here.
    • learning difficulty, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, or ADHD
    • mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression
    • physical disability, such as if you’re partially sighted or have to use crutches
    • long-term health condition, such as cancer, chronic heart disease, or HIV


For the most current and comprehensive information about the Disabled Student Allowance go to: https://www.gov.uk/disabled-students-allowance-dsa

Links relevant to this episode:

We also recommend the following sites for impartial and up-to-date information about student life:


Sound credits – https://www.bensound.com/

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