Innovative university and prison partnership shortlisted for prestigious education award

Innovative university and prison partnership shortlisted for prestigious education award  name


A pioneering programme allowing university students and prisoners to learn together has been shortlisted for a Times Higher Education Award in the ‘Widening Participation’ category.

The University of Cumbria and HMP Haverigg developed and successfully delivered a psychology module, worth 20 credits for students and prisoners at Cumbria’s only prison.

What sets this partnership apart from similar programmes is how the module is delivered. Besides standard theoretical discussion on criminology and forensic psychology, the module also draws from other university courses and invites public figures from local judiciary and criminal justice systems to talk to the students in the prison, something which has never happened before.

Lord Melvin Bragg, an honorary fellow of the University of Cumbria, gave his seal of approval to the programme earlier this year as his novel, The Maid of Buttermere, is used to analyse the criminal character.

This innovative way of learning resulted in all students passing the module at 2:1 or above and prisoners gained 20 credits towards higher education courses on their release.

Dr Alison Spurgeon-Dickson, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Cumbria who designed and delivered the module, said, “The practical and collaborative way students learn has proved immensely successful. Prisoners gain an alternative perspective on their experience of the criminal justice system, and university students get a first-hand account from their peers. The initiative has proved so popular that we have waiting lists at each establishment to apply for the next cohort.”

Another unique element of the programme is the collaborative approach to learning. Students have the opportunity to become learner mentors and lecturers, leading sessions in the ‘Philosopher's café’, the student-led prison debating society which encouraged prisoners to discuss and debate issues confidently as legitimate learners.

"Learning Together was a great success that surpassed all our expectations," Haverigg Governor Tony Corcoran said. "I wish to congratulate the University of Cumbria Lecturers and all the eminent professionals and experienced practitioners who offered guest speaker sessions, and thank them for all their hard work in creating such a unique and powerful learning experience that successfully inspired and motivated all the learners to realise their potential."

The university based the module on the ‘Learning Together’ model developed by the University of Cambridge. Alison developed it further by involving both students and lecturers from other disciplines across the university and by establishing collaborative relationships with Cumbrian judiciary and criminal justice agencies.

The partnership model is highly transferable and as a result, Alison is developing a suite of programmes to include additional modules in psychology and to roll out to other prisons.

The winner of the ‘Widening Participation’ category will be announced on Thursday 30 November at the awards ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London.