From January 2021, the University of Westminster is launching its three-year project ‘Prison University Partnerships’, working with DWRM Consultants Community Interest Company to support people in prison who are disadvantaged by a lack of higher education provision from UK universities.

Regent Street Campus

Working with its partner prisons HMYOI Feltham, HMP Bronzefield, and HMP Coldingley, Westminster will enable ten students from each prison to undertake a pilot project with Foundation course modules in Crime and Society and Criminology in January 2021. Based on the success of the pilot, the project will then progress onto the second part of the Foundation course in September 2021, with students beginning a full-time degree in 2022 with a wide selection of courses available. 

Prison University Partnerships was begun by Dr Morwenna Bennallick, Lecturer in Criminology and Social Sciences at the University of Westminster. Dr Bennallick worked closely with the third sector between 2016 - 2018 and was the Senior Research and Policy Officer at the Prisoners’ Education Trust. Through this role, she set up two networks: PUPiL (Prison University Partnerships in Learning), which champions partnership work to bring together students and prisoners, and PLAN (Prisoner Learning Academic Network), which works to promote and support high quality research in prisoner education.

The University of Westminster is committed to providing access to education for people from all backgrounds, and through this scheme, hopes to lead the current initiative seeking to broaden access to higher education for current and former prisoners.

The University has a strong track record as a leader in the field of prison university partnerships. There are currently four existing partnerships which bring Westminster students and prisoner students together in a range of learning initiatives. These partnerships are embedded and growing, and at the start of a three-year funding relationship with the Quintin Hogg Trust. This sector-leading position makes the University of Westminster an ideal institution to lead the current initiative seeking to broaden access to higher education for current and former prisoners.

Dan Whyte, Social Sciences PhD student at the University of Westminster, previously completed his undergraduate degree and Masters with The Open University whilst in prison. Talking about the importance of having access to higher education whilst in prison, he said: “Studying for a degree instantly focuses the mind and translates into a complete change to the structure of your day and week. It gives a purpose to the ‘dead time’ which is now defined as ‘study time’. 

“As a result, previous instances of negative behaviour during this idle time cease and this is both observed and mirrored by others on the wing. Similarly, the attitude of staff changes. Students who choose to spend their association time focusing on their studies are seen as role models, which is both settling and reassuring to others. When staff witness this change in demeanour, they tend to engage more positively with the men or women and frequently this leads to the offer of new roles of responsibility. For students, this new mind-set of experiencing positive treatment from both officers and peers is liberating. Often it is Black students who feel the biggest shift in attitude.

“As things become more positive over time (and a part time degree takes six years to complete), students start to believe that things really can be different when they are released. They start to feel responsible for others and want to impart this success by persuading others to take the same path.”

Talking about the proposal, Jordan Scammell, Development Team Manager at the University of Westminster, said: “This is another fantastic example of how the University of Westminster is championing inclusive and accessible education. Education has the power to transform lives. The more barriers we can remove for people like Dan to access education, the better chance of our students being able to transform their lives for the better. It’s great to see the support we’ve received so far. There is much more to do, but I’m confident this is a project that other funders will pledge their support to, to ensure its success.”

To find out more about how to support this scheme and the University of Westminster, please contact the Development Team at [email protected]

Headshot of Social Sciences PhD student Dan Whyte
Pictured: Social Sciences PhD student Dan Whyte

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