Location/geographical coverage

University of Exeter, Career Zone  ++, United Kingdom

Background and description

The University is committed to supporting students from all walks of life and embraces diversity within its community. Students from underrepresented and disadvantaged groups often face barriers in accessing Higher Education and developing their employability and career plans as they transition into university and into their post-graduation destination.

Certain features of the graduate labour market can disadvantage people from underrepresented backgrounds, so some students find it easier to make the move into graduate level employment than others. We believe that all students should have equal and fair access to opportunities and the chance to thrive in the right career.

Social mobility is a big problem in the UK and the top professions continue to be dominated by those who went to private schools. More students than ever from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds attend university but this has not translated to increased income or enrolment in competitive graduate programmes at leading firms. This is the most significant driver of inequality in society.

Non-selective state schools educate 89% of the population, yet account for only 30% of those on some graduate schemes – Dr. Louise Ashley

Graduates from lower income households earn 10% less than others studying the same course at the same university – IFS

74% of judges, 71% of barristers, 51% of journalists went to private schools, which educates only 7% of the population – Sutton Trust

Career Zone introduced a collaboration with a charity – collaboration with upReachthat helps disadvantaged students from across the UK realise their potential by investing in pioneering technology to facilitate, deliver and evaluate highly personalised programmes of support. Through successful partnerships with top employers and universities, upReach offers students access to a comprehensive range of opportunities and activities to broaden their horizons, understand career pathways and develop the skills, networks and experiences needed for professional success. We also collaborate closely with other charities in our sector to expand the support offered and maximise our joint impact.

Founded in 2012 with an initial cohort of 39 students, upReach has grown to support 3,000 students in 2021/22. upReach program of support is implemented at over 80 different universities across the UK.

Stakeholders and Partners

Underrepresented groups include – care leavers, student carers, students with disabilities, estranged students, students from low income households, mature students, students with mental health support needs, BAME ()Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) students, asylum seekers and refugees are the main beneficiaries of the practice;

Providers of the opportunities are:

University Career Zone/Centres service

upReach – a social mobility charity that partners with the University (and employers) to support students from lower socio-economic backgrounds reach their full potential. Includes access to employer led opportunities, e.g., Insight days and work experience, mentoring, skills sessions and ongoing one-to-one support.

Employers across UK, including – Deloitte, KPMG, Bank of America, Danone, HSBC, House of Commons, National Audit Office, etc.

Universities across UK, including – LEEDS, Warwick, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Kent College London, East London University, etc.

Methodological Approach

Intersectoral partnership – charity, employers and HEIs across the UK + other charities


upReach’s vision is of a society in which everybody has an equal opportunity to realise their full career potential, regardless of social background.

Socioeconomic disadvantage continues to be the most significant driver of inequality in terms of access to and outcomes from higher education.

It takes a double benefit approach to addressing this social mobility challenge.

upReach helps young people achieve their career potential by providing an intensive programme of support that addresses socioeconomic barriers to employment. These include 15 tailored interventions to help address the employability skills gap divided into 3 categories:

  1. Aspire
  2. Develop
  3. Succeed

upReach also works through influencing the hiring behaviours of top organisations so that a commitment to equal opportunity permeates their organisational culture and they recognise the social and economic value of greater diversity within their workforce.


  1. Growth of the program:

2022-25 Strategy envisages further growth to 4,000 students on our programmes by 2025, with the charity reaching 25,000 young people annually. Our intensive programmes of career support involve 15 different interventions, such as skills workshops, mock interviews, mentoring and career courses. They have helped students broaden their career horizons, and develop the skills, networks and work experience to secure offers from 74 of the Times Top 100 Employers.

  1. Positive testimonials:

“I have learnt so much from the services and resources available on the upReach platform. upReach has given me the chance to improve my skills and develop my employability and I now feel more prepared to take on the challenges associated with applications and other career endeavours that I want to take on in the future.”

Jadesola Olusanya, University of Birmingham

  1. Impact stats:

upReach Associates are typically five times more likely to be successful when applying to one of the partner employers than the average applicant 86.5% of upReach 2018 graduates were in highly skilled employment or further study 15 months after graduation.

3x first-year students who are part of our programme have 3.2 times the average employability skill progression.


median salary of our 2018 graduates who secured highly skilled employment, £4,000 higher than the average university graduate.

Innovation potential

3 types of partnerships:

Rise – comprehensive programme of personalised careers support for Undergraduates

SMN – Access to hundreds of professionals on exclusive networking platform – the Social Mobility Network

Progression Partners – A community of HE Professionals discussing Progression-related work

Success Factors

Strong academia-business and third sector (NGO) partnership with clearly set common objectives and understanding of the position of underrepresented students (upReach relations with recruitment, diversity and CSR teams at HEIs and businesses).

A variety of partnership and support offer re employability of underrepresented/marginalized University students

A well-conceived approach to employers – helping businesses in their mission for a more socially diverse organisation; each partnership is bespoke and all of our partnerships are impact-driven, which helps employers attract more applications from high calibre students from less-advantaged backgrounds,


Unable to support as many persons as needed so far

Students have not been able to receive support from upReach throughout their time at university.

Lessons learned



Replicability and/or up-scaling potential

The programme is long lasting and growing which attest to its sustainability over time.

Replicability is possible, the success lies in networking and national outreach. Also, fundraising is a crucial component.


This is the practice that shows how through outside partnership and strong networking Universities can thrive in assisting their underrepresented students.

There is no stats available on the successful implementation of the partnership across different study programs/disciplines. Given the employers partners, it seems dominantly students of economics are the ones most benefiting from the available support.

Contact details


URL of the practice Reference document



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