“Social mobility is at the heart of the University’s strategy” – Thoughts from the SOMO 2020 University Winners, University of Derby

Jun 18, 2021

University of Derby and their SOMOs trophy.

As we near the entry deadline for the fifth annual UK Social Mobility Awards, we are talking to some of the brilliant organisations and individuals who won an award at the 2020 Awards ceremony.

We have reached out and spoken Krisha Bainham, the Head of Widening Access at the University of Derby. The University of Derby won the ‘University of the Year’ award last year, for their work in creating a strategic framework to advance social mobility and creating positive change, and opportunities for all.

Read to find out more about why social mobility, and being recognised for the work they are doing to advance it, is important to the University, and why they are hopeful that others will be inspired by their work.


What did it mean for the University of Derby to be recognised for winning the University of the Year Award in 2020?

“The University was delighted to be acknowledged as the leading institution for social mobility in recognition of the important work our staff, students and stakeholders are undertaking to ensure an equitable and transformative student experience.

At Derby, we firmly believe in the transformational nature of education and are committed to being bold and fostering

UoD at the SOMOs 2020

University of Derby being announced the winner at the SOMOs 2020.

brilliance in our students and staff. With the impact of coronavirus compounding societal inequality between the most and least advantaged, it is more important than ever that we continue to break down barriers, support achievement and create opportunities for all across our region and beyond, regardless of age, background or location.



What does social mobility mean to the University of Derby and how are you incorporating it into your organisation?

The University prides itself on being part of the community and the city of Derby was identified as being a social mobility ‘cold spot’. Social mobility within the University is about ensuring that our policies and practices support our students’ ambitions and give them the tools and experiences that they need to succeed. Success is judged both in terms of the collective transformative activities in which our students engage and the positive contributions of their learning to society. Higher education should be equitable, inclusive and open to all who have the ambition and desire to learn and progress, and it is this which drives the University to deliver excellence for our students, our staff and our region.

Social mobility is at the heart of the University’s strategy – ‘being a force for positive impact’ and ‘opening doors for everyone’ are key pillars that support the provision of an environment permeated by equitable practice, in which students are expected, and supported, to excel. We are ambitious for our students, our staff and our region, and strive to succeed, but equally we recognise the need to be flexible and adaptable to be truly inclusive for all, and to adapt to the changing environment in which we now operate.”


What is next on the social mobility agenda for the University of Derby?

The University is committed to tackling all barriers for all students, and one of the most pervasive throughout higher education is the ‘awarding gap’, the disparity in attainment and student success between two groups when other factors have been accounted for, meaning these significant differences should not exist and are unexplained. At Derby, our data analysis has shown such awarding gaps exist between white and black students, students from the most deprived and least deprived areas in the country, and between disabled and non-disabled students. Reducing and eliminating these awarding gaps is now a significant priority for the University, with a number of complex work streams to focus activity.

University of Derby logoWe are under no illusion this is a quick fix activity, it will involve both structural and cultural change at the institution, including embedding new ways of working and of understanding the student journey. However, we are confident that with the continued commitment of our staff and student body to this vital agenda, we will reach our goal to eliminate these gaps.


Why do you think social mobility should be embedded in all UK organisations, businesses and institutions?

Social mobility, social justice, creating a fair society and providing access to opportunities for our students to be successful and to achieve their ambitions are important for us as a University, but they are also core values which all organisations, businesses and institutions should foster. Creating a vibrant work culture and a more productive society rests on the value that is placed on people; this in turn leads to a healthier and more prosperous economy. But it is not just about the economic value, at an individual level, giving people the power to change their lives, to achieve their ambitions, to be creative and fulfilled also contributes to improved health, wellbeing and life expectancy. The belief in people and the capacity that rests within them, is integral to social mobility in its broadest sense.


For those organisations who are doing good work for the cause, why would you recommend they enter the SOMOs 2021 and what advice would you give them?

There are a number of reasons why organisations should enter the SOMOs. Firstly, it is a great opportunity to take that moment to celebrate the contribution that colleagues across an organisation are making towards the advancement of upward social mobility and creating opportunities for all to flourish, particularly as this work is often long-term and can go under the radar.

The process of writing the nomination provides an occasion to reflect on your work, the distance you’ve travelled, and your successes. To then be shortlisted and eventually go onto win, especially when up against so many commendable nominees, is something which the whole organisation can feel pride in.

Secondly, it is important that organisations have the opportunity to share at a national level the work they are doing, and also to understand and learn about the achievements of others. We have certainly valued understanding the challenges and success of other organisations.

Our best advice would be to involve staff from across the organisation. We underwent a process of consultation of what we should include in the nomination, and it highlighted several excellent activities which further illustrated the impact of our social mobility work. In addition, keep it simple, focus on the key elements of your work which show the direct impact on the people you are trying to reach, and how you can evidence that impact.


The deadline to enter the UK Social Mobility Awards is just one week away. Make sure to submit your entries by Friday, 25th June and be recognised for the work you’re doing for the advancement of social mobility in the UK.

Enter the 2021 Awards here.

The UK Social Mobility Awards is a fundraising initiative for the registered charity, Making The Leap.

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