A project to open up education to people from disadvantaged backgrounds, including offenders and those suffering from addiction or mental health problems, has won the Student Diversity and Widening Participation Guardian University Award 2016 for Goldsmiths, University of London.
The Open Book scheme at Goldsmiths has worked with more than 1,000 people since being launched by Joe Baden in 2004.
Open Book’s goal is to improve equality in higher education and access for the broad population who perhaps for institutional, structural and cultural reasons would not have previously considered higher education.
This includes people with offending and addiction backgrounds and complex mental health requirements, as well as those who have never truly considered further and higher education as a route to enhancing their future career choices and personal development.
"At the heart of Open Book,” explains Joe, “is the ethos that everyone has the right to fulfil their academic potential”.
Speaking after the Guardian's award ceremony on Wednesday 16 March, Joe said: "This award is recognition for all of the hard working and inspirational people at Goldsmiths Open Book Project.
"It's also a testament to the boldness and bravery of Goldsmiths for daring to back a genuinely radical project which is dispelling the often convenient myth that there are people in our community that are hard to reach, what I consider to be a middle class euphemism for working class people.
"I'd also like to say a massive thank you to the Lankelly Chase Foundation for their support."
(Open Book founder Joe Baden © Sarah Ainslie)
The Student Diversity and Widening Participation category at the Guardian University Awards 2016 recognises innovative initiatives that have demonstrably helped to increase the number of disadvantaged and non-traditional students entering university.
Open Book has never advertised for students, instead relying heavily on a word-of-mouth approach, which sees new students arriving on campus every single week of the year.
All members of staff have, at one time or another, been Open Book students themselves, which means they have real understanding and genuine empathy.
Open Book recruits students from a wide range of different backgrounds (with ages ranging from 18 to 80) and one of its driving principles is that students, those who engage with higher education, should not change in terms of dress, voice or behaviour.
(Open Book tutor Neil Bradley © Sarah Ainslie)
The project encourages students to value and reflect on their own life experiences to offer new dimensions to the academic and policy perspectives offered by their courses.
While some 160 participants have graduated from Goldsmiths and other universities, students are not necessarily directed toward studying toward a degree: Open Book staff work with individual students to find the right solution for them.
At its core is an ethos of education for education’s sake, not as a means to any other end.
From humble beginnings operating one day a week, Open Book now boasts a full timetable of classes, lectures and seminars at Goldsmiths and in Medway (funded by the Lankelly Chase Foundation) and has satellite programmes at Queen Mary, University of London, LSE and the London College of Communication.