How did your education and previous professional experience shape your current work at Project Access?
My time at Oxford University has shaped my work at Project Access in a bunch of ways. First and foremost, it kindled the ideals behind Project Access itself: experiencing the opportunities that world-class education opens alongside the inequality in the admissions processes skewing the student population towards those from privileged backgrounds. Not that the university itself discriminated in a bad way at all, but that there are big inequalities in terms of which groups of people have the confidence to apply in the first place and how many resources different students have available to them when they apply. Many students were aware of these gaps and want to open up their institution to people from all backgrounds– and that’s why we started Project Access.
Second, being surrounded by impressive peers gave me, a Danish kid from regular public high school, the confidence to see just how large this could grow. I remember having lunch conversations that left me with the feeling that the sky was the limit.
My time at McKinsey taught me a lesson about how to navigate in a world of very imperfect information, asking questions like "What’s the quickest way to get a directional answer to this?" There are many open questions when you start a new organisation, especially when it comes to education.
What has been the response so far from individuals and institutions who have used Project Access?
The response has been overwhelming. We’ve matched over 1,000 prospective applicants with a mentor and we receive daily emails from applicants sharing their excitement. What really excites applicants is how our focus on tailored peer-mentoring allows them to speak to someone who has recently gone through a similar application journey, someone they can relate to. That’s different from many other organisations out there, and only possible because nearly 2,000 mentors believe what we do is worth their scarce spare time. When coupled with timely, personalized application tips and success stories presented in interactive formats, this becomes a powerful tool.
In terms of institutions, we will be piloting some really exciting programs this winter to support low-income students in the period between getting an offer from a top university and actually enrolling: tackling the personal anxieties and the academic preparation to ensure that they succeed when they arrive for first day of university.
What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
We don’t work directly with learning, but I think it’s clear that technology-enhanced learning has not yet reached its potential. The current learning management systems are mainly digitizing learning materials, but we’re seeing very little actual effect on the actual way teaching is done. Platforms that make it easy for teachers to communicate their materials and engage with students in new ways could mean a genuine improvement in learning across higher education.
In addition to Project Access, what else are you working on?
Nothing. I devote all my time to make Project Access work.
Who are the most interesting people you are following on Twitter?
I think Anders Krohn from Aula Education has some really interesting insights into the future of blended learning and how conversational interfaces could make learning managements systems more user-friendly.
Image: Courtesy Rune Kvist