“Encouraging young people from an early age is important. It is not just for the elite. I am an example of this.”
Fourth year Jayde O’Connor delivered a powerful speech on widening access at Universities Scotland’s annual event in Holyrood.
Jayde told an audience including the Minister for Further education, Higher Education and Science, Shirley-Anne Somerville, and representatives of Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions including Principal Professor Pamela Gillies CBE FRSE and Professor Valerie Webster about her experiences growing up and the barriers she has overcome. She highlighted the work of Glasgow Caledonian University’s Outreach team and others, in helping her defy statistics and make it in to higher education.
Jayde spoke about the impact on her life of the death of her mother when she was just 14 - a period she described as critical l to her education.
She credited the crucial role played by her former teacher Mrs Boyle, from St Ninian’s RC High School in Kirkintilloch, who joined the emotional event at the Scottish Parliament, and paid tribute to GCU staff.
One example was the support of Senior Lecturer Emily Thomson, who gave up her lunchbreaks to provide extra support. She also thanked the University for providing accommodation on campus, without which she believes she would not have made it this far.
She said: “Mrs Boyle saw my potential and believed in me. She didn’t make me a pity case. She didn’t make excuses for me and treated me like everyone else. Others would think that I had a hard life and they wouldn’t question me about homework but I never got that from her. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I would have applied to come to university.”
Jadye acknowledged the work done by all institutions across Scotland to ensure more people from disadvantaged backgrounds can access university, while recommending that more is done to educate young people that university is free as well as simplifying and uniforming the processes on how to get to university.
She shared with the audience her next steps; she has been accepted on to a Masters programme, and is writing her dissertation on barriers to higher education for looked-after children. Jayde hopes that her role as a student mentor in GCU's Outreach as well as her part-time work in a residential home in Renfrewshire will inspire others that education is open to all.
Jayde said: “Encouraging young people from an early age is important. It is not just for the elite. I am an example of this.”