New campaign highlights the success stories of local students who were the first in their family to attend university


The extraordinary success of students from the University of Greenwich who were the first in their families to attend university is being highlighted in a new national campaign, led by Universities UK.

Byron Cole grew up on one of the largest council estates in London and left school without any attend qualifications. Eventually he began studying at the university of Greenwich and graduated in 2008 with a BSc Hon Economics degree. 100 Faces

Over the past five years Byron has maintained a close relationship with the university; offering his experience to students pitching at the Enterprise Challenge as a judge as well as mentoring. In 2022 he was awarded an Honorary Degree from the university of Greenwich.

Byron is an award-winning entrepreneur, business start-up expert, and successful author of his book ‘Self Made’. In 2006, he founded the BLC Group - an umbrella company for businesses operating across a range of sectors including property services, construction recruitment, corporate and personal branding, employability skills, professional mentoring and business consultancy.

Byron has spent much of his career using his business experience to mentor and support others. Since 2019 he has been co-chair of Evolve Housing + Support, a leading homelessness charity in London that provides housing and support to over 2,000 people each year. He is a School Governor of Harris Academy in Purley and he currently works with the University as a mentor.

Byron said:

“The University of Greenwich is dear to my heart for many reasons. Number one it gave me some of the life skills I needed to start my first two businesses. In addition, I just loved my time at university.

“It was a great experience. I went from failures to successes, I experienced so many different things. I failed a module that I subsequently had to retake, which gave me so many life skills that I’ve now come to appreciate later on in my journey that I perhaps didn’t recognise at the time.

“I give back because I want to be able to share my experiences with students and fellow alumni, to enable them and empower them to achieve whatever they want. I am literally living my dream, and the University of Greenwich was definitely an important part of that.”

UUK’s ‘100 Faces campaign’ aims to champion and celebrate the positive impact of ‘first-in-the-family’ (FitF) graduates on the UK – including England footballer Beth Mead, Lord David Blunkett, Nobel Prize winner Sir Chris Pissarides and actor Amit Shah - in order to highlight the need for access to support, and ensure the next generation can reach their graduate potential.

As part of the campaign, new research reveals the transformative impact of going to university  on ambition (74%), with almost three quarters (73%) of FitF students agreeing their degree gave them the confidence to apply for jobs without feeling like an imposter

The research also highlights FiF students’  reliance on depreciating financial support - without financial support, over 4 in 10FitF graduates couldn’t have afforded to go to university at all. This is equivalent to around 1.1 million 24–40-year-olds in England and Wales.

With financial provisions dwindling and the cost of living rising, UUK is calling for government to reinstate maintenance grants and increase support for future students

These findings come from extensive new research, commissioned by Universities UK, into the experiences of 6,004 UK graduates and 4,006 non-graduates, aged 24-40, from across the UK.

The success of students like Byron Cole is testament to the extraordinary role university can play – particularly for those students who are the first in their family to attend and face significant barriers before they even set foot on campus. Despite this inequality, FiF students flourish at university – with three quarters of FiF respondents saying that their experiences at university made them more confident and ambitious, gave them broader life experiences and crucial life skills which continue to be impactful long after graduation.

However, the research also pointed to the need for uplifted financial support to ensure that FiF students are able to progress. Over 4 in 10 (41%) FitF students believe that without financial assistance they wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to university, and when non-graduates from across the UK were asked what might have persuaded them to attend university, almost half (48%) responded more financial support.

Many graduates responding to this survey were eligible for non-repayable maintenance grants as students, which were replaced by repayable loans, in England in 2016, although maintenance grants continue to operate in Wales, Scotland and for some healthcare courses in England.

In light of this, UUK is campaigning to highlight the achievements of the extraordinary first in family graduates in every community, and to ensure that future generations don’t miss out on the transformative impact of a university education.

Vivienne Stern MBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK, commented:

“There are those who say that too many people go to university. I disagree. These stories tell you why. In this country you are still twice as likely to go to university if you are from the wealthiest background, compared to the least wealthy. That’s not right.

“The experiences of students who are the first in their families to have been to university tell a powerful story. I am amazed by how many graduates talked about having imposter syndrome – and the way that earning a degree helped to banish that feeling. I believe we have a responsibility to keep working to ensure a wider range of people in this country get access to the potentially transformative experience of going to university. For that to happen, we really do need to see an improvement in maintenance support to support those from the least privileged backgrounds.”

Current staff; General public

Communications and Recruitment Directorate