Stirling students share extraordinary stories of unconventional route to university

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A view of Airthrey Loch and the Wallace Monument

Two Scottish students who beat an unconventional path to university are being featured in a new campaign to help widen access to higher education. 

University of Stirling history student and sports scholar Scott Meenagh and Stirling graduate, now University employee, Toni Rodgers are both part of the 40 Faces campaign from Universities Scotland.  

The campaign gives students and graduates who accessed university through a non-traditional route a platform to share their stories as Scotland’s universities head towards a 2030 goal of fair access targets. 

Third-year undergraduate student Scott is a Team GB Paralympic athlete, the first British Nordic skier at a Paralympics for 20 years. He joined the armed forces after leaving school and was injured when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) while serving in Afghanistan, aged 21. He returned to education through the Open University in 2017 and is now studying full-time at Stirling.

man with artificial legs holding sign Scott Meenagh is a history student and sports scholar.

Scott features in 40 Faces as well as a wider Universities UK 100 Faces campaign. Scott said: “I spent years feeling like I didn’t have much of an education behind me, and I undervalued the skills I had acquired in the armed forces.  

“There’s a collective belonging at the University of Stirling that makes your journey equally as valuable, important and insightful as anyone else’s – regardless of your circumstances or aspirations. I feel valued as a mature student and as someone who has seen the world from a different perspective.” 

Toni, a Business and French graduate, comes from a care experienced background. An internship with the University of Stirling’s careers team involving other care experienced individuals persuaded Toni to pursue a career with the University after graduation. 

Now Careers and Work Based Learning Coordinator at the University of Stirling, Toni said: “For me, coming to university was such a big step, and almost a lifesaving one. It was about getting away from my hometown and the chance to experience new things.

“It’s great to be part of a campaign where other students are standing up and advocating for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s a good reminder that, no matter where you come from, you should be able to access higher education and feel like you have the right to be there.”

Woman with arms folded Alum Toni Rodgers now works at the University of Stirling.

Shona Barrie, Director of Admissions and Access at the University of Stirling, said: “40 Faces is not just a showcase of extraordinary stories about access to education, it is a voice for those students who have not taken the customary route to university. We hope that by Scott and Toni sharing their experiences at the University of Stirling, others will see that there is more than one path to gaining university admission.” 

The Universities Scotland 40 Faces campaign aims to champion the diversity and success of widening access programmes from universities and higher education institutions from across Scotland.  

The campaign runs with only six years left for Scotland to reach the fair access targets, originally set by the Commission for Fair Access in 2016 and supported by the Scottish Government and by universities themselves. Universities have made major strides towards the 20% target, hitting interim milestones in 2021 and introducing the most progressive admissions policies in the UK, in support of this goal. 

However, with six years remaining to reach the targets in 2030, progress has plateaued in the face of mounting challenges including the legacy of lost-learning in schools during the pandemic, a cost-of-living crisis, and the persistent attainment gap in schools.  

Commenting on the campaign, Claire McPherson, Director Universities Scotland said: “Participation in Scotland’s universities is at its most inclusive, and Scotland’s 19 universities and higher education institutions have truly shifted the dial on widening access. Admissions policies in Scotland are more progressive than anywhere else in the UK, with institutions working together for the benefit of people across the country, regardless of their route to university.  

“Our universities are committed to widening access. However, they cannot achieve this alone.  With our 40 Faces campaign, Universities Scotland want to galvanise the sector and Scottish Government towards the 2030 widening access target, through sharing the lived experience of students and graduates.”

To find out more about the campaign, and to read other students' stories, visit the 40 Faces website.