Scheme of the Semester: Pathways to Law

I’m Sophie, a recent University of Manchester graduate who now works as an intern in in the Access and Success Team! I’m from a Widening Participation (WP) background myself, and it’s so interesting and exciting to see how the team works from the other side. I wanted to give an overview of the Manchester Distance Access Scheme, or MDAS, particularly with the perspective of someone who studied a humanities subject, since I’m a history graduate myself.

I wish I had taken advantage of MDAS when applying to the University of Manchester. The University of Manchester was always my firm choice to study my undergraduate History degree, and now, working in the Access and Success Team as a graduate, I’ve been able to see from the other side of the process how much confidence and how many skills MDAS imbues in its participants. As someone from a WP background myself, I can only imagine how much more smoothly my first few months at university might have been if I’d used MDAS as a foundation to build my student experience on!

In this post, I wanted to give an overview of MDAS and how it can provide WP students with the necessary tools to succeed and be confident at The University of Manchester, specifically in humanities related subjects. Though of course, MDAS is a great programme to be a part of whatever your undergraduate degree choice is! I studied History, but there is a lot of crossover in the skills used in humanities and arts subjects; essay-writing; complex referencing styles; analytical and critical thinking; self-motivation. This core set of skills that MDAS helps you develop will be useful not only in your undergraduate studies, but far beyond too!

As a WP student myself, I often found that many of my peers knew far more about the skills they needed at university, or the kinds of assignments they’d be working on. Perhaps their parents had gone to the same or a similar institution, or maybe they’d studied at a school that had more resources and time to spend informing them about Higher Education. Either way: I’d felt a bit clueless at times!

I can only imagine how much help MDAS would have given me. MDAS has two parts to it, an Academic Skills module, and a Mini Degree module, both of which expand your academic skillset and give greater exposure to the way studies and assignments work here at Manchester. For the latter module of MDAS, you’ll also have the support of an academic tutor, and having that personal connection to your future place of study can really help you feel more settled when the undergraduate course begins and you already know a faculty member.

Academic Skills Module

The first module, Academic Skills, is made up of five parts:

  • Understanding your task
  • Writing your essay
  • Referencing your sources
  • Avoiding plagiarism
  • Planning your presentation.

A lot of humanities subjects differ at university level from the way they’re taught in school – contact hours are limited, and you’re somewhat left to your own devices. Because of this much more independent way of studying, participating in MDAS gives you a steppingstone between the different teaching and studying styles. Furthermore, it also introduces whole new concepts that may not have been emphasised in a school environment. Tasks like referencing and avoiding plagiarism are key things to get right at university, and MDAS can offer those of us who weren’t made aware of such things in school a chance to get our knowledge about university on a more level playing field with those who come from a more advantageous background. Subjects taking part in MDAS can be found here: Manchester Distance Access Scheme | The University of Manchester


Mini Degree Module

The second part of MDAS is the Mini Degree module, which helps to familiarise you with university level assessments, and in the case of humanities subjects, this is often essays much longer than what may be expected of you at school. Again, this module creates a stepping stone between post-16 study and undergraduate degree study, making students more comfortable with what will be expected of them when they study a humanities subject at the University of Manchester. Essays aren’t a task to be feared; you’ll have the opportunity to write about an array of different topics that spark your interests. Examples of previous MDAS essays include…

  • In what ways have modern archaeological excavations informed our understanding of how the Great Pyramid of Giza was constructed? (Archaeology)
  • How did southern politicians and elites justify slavery in the years leading up to the American Civil War? (American Studies)
  • Analyse the audio-visual style in a particular film sequence. What is significant about the audio-visual style in the featured sequence – how does it contribute to our understanding of the film and relate to its historical, cultural, or socio-political context? (Film Studies)
  • Given the challenges that the world faces, are we in a ‘crisis’? (Liberal Arts)
  • Write a 700 word commentary on the chapter titled ‘Do Muslim Women (still) Need Saving? (Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies)

Both modules are run on the site BlackBoard, a site that would be new to all undergraduates, and which may at first seem slightly confusing to navigate. But, because MDAS gives you a longer period to adjust to using the site, and lets you familiarise yourself with it at a greater level, students who take part again face one less hurdle during the hectic move to university and all the other changes this encompasses.

What Do Students Say About MDAS?

80% of students who completed MDAS in 2020 said it made them feel more confident and prepared for their studies at The University of Manchester. Go into humanities specific quotes and experiences here – will come from survey of students who complete MDAS – potentially update statistics for 2022

Final Thoughts

MDAS isn’t a scheme that students have to apply for, the university will do the initial legwork for you! Once you’ve submitted your UCAS application and have a conditional offer, you’ll be contacted and told if you’re eligible for the scheme by the university. MDAS is for home UK students who hold a conditional offer to study at The University of Manchester, and confirm it as their first choice. Eligible students must have also attended a state school, are assessed as being from a Widening Participation background through rubrics used by the University. For more information on the eligibility criteria for MDAS, please see here.

Upon successful completion of the course, a one grade reduction is applied to your standard offer from The University of Manchester. For example, if your standard offer were AAA, after completing MDAS it would become AAB. MDAS can also be combined with contextual offers, which could mean a 2-grade reduction. To find out more about MDAS please see here, and for more information on contextual offers, please see here.

Even without this grade reduction though, you’ll be able to see the benefits it offers students from WP backgrounds just by taking part.