The former Dean at King’s College London who is now helping students in Nelson unlock their full potential and realise their academic dreams.


Victoria Syme-Taylor is head of the Academic Enrichment and the Scholars’ Programme here at Nelson and Colne College. She sat down with us this week to discuss her career before coming to Nelson, her role here at the College, and her vision for the future of academic success within the North West of England.

Previously the Dean of Academic Studies in the Defence Studies Department at the King’s College London, Victoria found herself noticing a real gap in confidence between students who had ample preparation for the challenge of higher education and those who were ‘equally clever’ but hadn’t been adequately prepared both personally and academically for the challenges that a Russel Group University can pose.

With her heart set on making a difference, Victoria headed North and joined us here at Nelson and Colne College.

Read on to find out more about how her role in our Scholars’ programme is helping our students achieve their higher education dreams but most importantly, realise their potential.


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background prior to joining the college?


Well, prior to coming here (Nelson and Colne College) I actually worked in the university sector. I was Dean of Academic Studies in the Defence Studies Department at the King’s College, London. That is a department that specialises in War and Security Studies, so I was involved in both the academic area but also, I worked with the Foreign Office on Conflict Stabilisation and projects like that. Rather a different background from other teachers!


How did you got involved here at Nelson and Colne College?


When I was teaching at King’s College London, I was very aware that there was a great difference between those students who had had a lot of confidence-building experiences at college and school, therefore came to university as an undergraduate with those particular skills, and those who were equally clever but hadn’t had that experience.

I’ve often thought this is something I would like to do. To go into a college and prepare people for university. I moved up north from the south looking for something to do and I was approached by a senior member of the College who said “would you like to come here and inspire our students to apply to the top universities?”


What is it you do here at the college?


I lead on the Scholars’ Programme here at NCC. There are two main aims of the Scholars’ Programme. The first one is to encourage people to aspire to apply to, what I would call, competitive universities, or you sometimes here the phrase Russell Group Universities.  That includes Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Manchester, Bristol – a whole range of universities which are considered to be the top 23 or 24 in the country. I encourage people in their applications to those, especially those applying to Oxford, Cambridge or to courses within the medical sciences. So that’s the first thing.


The second thing I do at the same time is I run small group seminars, mirroring the experience people would get as an undergraduate at one of these universities. We sit around and we talk about loads of things. We talk about politics and culture, we have debates, we have arguments about what is happening in the world. At the end of the first year I get all the students to do a presentation because when they go off to university they will be asked to do something like that so it is building up their confidence.

So, there are two parallel strands to what I do. Number one is to encourage people to apply to the top universities, and secondly to get people ready for the university experience.


How do students qualify to take part in the Scholars’ programme?


Before students arrive here they get selected on to the Scholars programme on the basis of their GCSE grades.



How is the Scholars Programme beneficial to students here at Nelson and Colne College?


It’s really about confidence building. It is this belief in themselves making them think that they can apply for Oxford, Cambridge or other top universities. It’s giving them that self-confidence, getting rid of self-doubt.

People have said things to me like “people like us don’t apply for the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge” and that’s not true. Anybody can apply. I believe in giving people the confidence to believe that they will fit in to that kind of environment, and that’s the most important thing.

But, regardless of where people’s destinations are – it’s actually about people leaving College with a new found level of confidence to go into the workplace or to University and to not have that awful first day of sitting in a seminar room thinking that ‘everyone else is much more confident than me’, but to actually have those key skills already.

By developing skills of debate, critical analysis and learning to talk to each other without feeling of judgement is fundamental when preparing learners for that University experience.

Why would you recommend the Scholars’ Programme?


For anyone aspiring to apply for a Russell Group University, the skills they will learn in the Scholars’ Programme seminars, as well as the support that myself and the staff give to the application process, makes the chance of success with that application process much greater than if the Scholars’ Programme was not to exist. I would definitely recommend it to a whole range of students.


What makes the Scholars Programme unique?

Certainly, it is interesting that if you go to the independent sector (private schools) then opportunities like the Scholars’ Programme are always there, no matter what name they may fall under. One of the reasons why there has been such a high success rate of people getting into Universities from the private sector is because they are provided with these core skills, it is standard.

I very much wanted to make these skills available to students at a public college such as Nelson and Colne. I know how unique it is for an FE college with an A level stream like ours to be running an initiative like the Scholars’ Programme.

Interestingly, only the other day, Rishi Sunak was talking about education and the importance of education. In one of the conversations he had around this, he made reference to an experience he had at his private school, Winchester College, which was called Divisions, and he described them doing exactly what we do here within the Scholars’ Programme. So, in fact, we are mirroring   what somebody would get at a school like Winchester College and providing it to our own students.


How does the Scholars Programme help students achieve their goals?(success stories of the programme so far)

As an example of the College-wide success that has come from the existence of this programme, there are three areas of focus.

Firstly, we have seen a rise in applications to Oxford and Cambridge and with it a rise in successful acceptances. Getting students to interview is the most important thing. Obviously once we get them there we offer a lot of help with interview support but it is very competitive and people won’t always get the results that they want but getting to that stage is simply fantastic. We have just this year had 11 students apply for Oxbridge and of them 6 have been granted interviews.

Furthermore, the success rate of the College within the medical sciences has similarly improved. I support people in interview practise for medical school, veterinary school and dentistry. Finally, people getting into other top UK universities such as St. Andrews, Durham, University College London, King’s College London – all top universities. We have seen a really pleasing rise in the number of students who have been successful with their applications for these universities.


How do you make a Russell Group University appear ‘within reach’ for Pendle-based learners in the North West of England?

One of the other things the Scholars’ Programme does is it encourages students to apply to the many numerous outreach programmes offered by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and the other Russell Group Universities. There are Summer Schools and courses that many of my Scholars have gone on, run by these universities which has hugely helped them in both their confidence and their applications.

I also spend a lot of time talking to Cambridge and Oxford, amongst other Universities, asking what resources they have that our students can take part in whilst they’re here in College. Through these connections I have managed to establish links with specific colleges, for instance for Cambridge we have links with St John’s College and Sidney Sussex. At Oxford we have links with Worcester College and Queen’s College. It’s been really beneficial to have that personal connection and recommendations with specific colleges, rather than the university as a whole.


What would your message be to students who are academically gifted but still believe that Russell Group or Oxbridge unis are out of reach? (whether that be due to confidence issues or a perceived regional bias?)

That doesn’t really exist, it’s only in their minds. It’s about self-confidence. As soon as they join the Scholars’ Programme they will realise that this is something they can do.



If you would like to learn more about the success of the Scholars’ Programme here at Nelson and Colne College then click one of the following links to read about Niamh Ward or Mohamad Al Shaar; both of whom benefitted from their inclusion within the programme and are now realising their academic dreams at the University of Oxford.

Inspired and want to learn more? Get in touch with our admission team and find out what Nelson and Colne College can offer you.

Phone: 01282 440272