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Graduating Izzy’s first-class journey to help solve society’s inequalities

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Published on 24 November 2020

MSc Inequality and Society graduate Izzy Finch
MSc Inequality and Society graduate Izzy Finch

Despite leaving school after A-Levels at 18 to pursue a music career and deciding not to enter Higher Education, the 28-year-old graduates this week during the University of Sunderland’s Winter Ceremonies with a first-class Distinction.

Izzy is also one of the first students to graduate from the new MSc Inequality and Society, the first Masters programme of its kind in the region, which explores the rising tide of inequalities in society locally, nationally and globally.

The talented singer/songwriter, from Newcastle, was motivated to take her first steps back into education by the degree modules, as she knew she could draw on her years of experience as a Learning and Participation Officer at The Customs House in South Shields and freelance work as an arts practitioner as well as her work with Gem Arts and the Gateshead Resettlement Programme working with Syrian refugees.

Working in the Third Sector helping to improve life for others was also the inspiration behind her dissertation, looking at how austerity has impacted on refugees and asylum seeker organisations in the North East.


The MSc Inequality and Society offers an understanding of the major causes of inequality, why some groups face unique forms of disadvantage in areas such as health, sexualities, gender, age, domestic abuse, childhood and socio-economic issues.


Izzy says: “Joining the course has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.  I was able to build on what I have learned during the degree to support my current role at the Customs House and as a freelance music practitioner.


“Challenging and working to eliminate the impact of inequality is something I feel passionately about. Working with marginalised and hard to reach communities has helped me to recognise that working in the arts to promote social change is where my ambitions to be a part of a fair society can be realised.

“It is more important than ever to research and find ways to address the inequalities that affect us all.”

A team of social scientists at Sunderland felt the time was ripe to introduce the research-based Master’s programme with a focus on inequality with welfare reforms and the rising cost of living since the recession in 2008 pushing vulnerable families into poverty, coupled with the concerning rise of hate crime and the Far Right as well as the impact of Brexit.


Aimed at post-graduate students as well as a wide range of professionals who want to upskill, from health and social care, teaching to psychology criminology to community and community work, the course explores strategies for change, through research.

Programme Leader Drew Dalton said: “Ever since Izzy came onto the MSc, she has embraced learning in all ways. As a non-traditional entrant, she has come leaps and bounds since the beginning of the programme and it has been wonderful to see her grow in confidence. Her dissertation was excellent and explored the role of austerity measures and their impacts on Third Sector refugee and asylum seeker organisations with some exciting findings to share with charities. Izzy gained a strong Distinction overall and is a real success story from this MSc.”

Despite the early nerves of her degree, Izzy embraced every aspect of the course, and found herself thriving academically, even with the challenges of lockdown.

She said: “I left home as a teenager and decided not go to university. I’d convinced myself that playing in my band would be enough, eventually I found myself falling into paid arts opportunities. However, there’s always been that chip on my shoulder that I didn’t have a degree, I’d also never seen a course that appealed to me. But when I spotted the MSc it was exactly what I wanted to learn about, and with encouragement and reassurance from Drew, I signed up.

“Admittedly I felt insecure meeting my peers and a sense of deep shame, my cheeks burned as we went around the classroom talking about ourselves those first days. But as the weeks went on, I realised I was able to apply my professional practice to the learning theory for the first time and it was transformational.”

Izzy’s advice to anyone considering returning to higher education, no matter what their experience, is to study a subject you’re passionate about.

"If you’re passionate about the subject that you're studying you're going to want to put the work in,” she said. “Being in a place where you’re ready to learn is also the key.” 

MSc Inequality and Society is one year full-time and two years part-time.

The academic team includes award-winning staff in the areas of equality and diversity and teaching and learning, including Dr Bruce Marjoribanks, Dr Sheila Quaid , Dr Helen Williams, Tom Rodgers, Patrick Hutchinson and Matthew Drury.

A three-day online celebration event will take place from Wednesday, November 25 and students can join at https://www.sunderland.ac.uk/class-of-2020-winter/