Great expectations

With the cost of degrees at an all-time high, Hannah Bellis investigates how faculties are funding scholarships for the future

Whatever your views on tuition fees, there’s no denying that with courses costing up to £9,000 annually, there’s a risk of deterring promising students. Average household incomes stagnate while living and food costs increase beyond the rate of inflation. Can families afford the cost of higher education? Means testing and bursaries help. Increasingly academic establishments are prioritising excellence scholarships as a way of attracting high flyers and making sure that promising academics don’t miss out on further study.

Some are government funded in areas where qualified individuals are needed, like the NHS bursary for medicine and dentistry, where funding and reduced rate non-income assessed student loans make courses more approachable. Private businesses and the military offer scholarships to promising individuals in exchange for a commitment to future work once qualified. And some scholarships exist as the result of benefactors who want to support an area that means something to them. These can be available through particular establishments, or as funding for students to take to a university of their choice. We profile some of the career scholarships offered by the leading educational establishments in the UK.

University of Bath

Bath announced their largest scholarship initiative in February 2015 for Accounting and Finance students at their School of management. In partnership with global professional services firm EY, it’s worth over £1 million over the next four years, with scholarship students receiving up to £40,000, plus paid summer work and third year salaried placement. From 2016 the scheme will include 20 scholars. There’s no guarantee or obligation of a job after graduation, but high-performers could be offered a position. Hywel Ball, EY’s Managing Partner for Assurance, comments: “Many of today’s graduates enter the workplace with sizeable student loan repayments that last for a large part of their working lives. Scholarship will give students a financial leg-up, to ensure they are able to focus on making the most of their time at university.” 

Other non-subject specific scholarship options for undergraduates include the Bath Spa High Performance Sports Scholarship. Applicants must have an outstanding ability in a particular sport and be currently competing at a national or international level. Director of Sport Stephen Baddeley, says: ‘Bath has a proud history since 1976 of supporting talented sportsmen and women through scholarships as they seek to balance top-level sport with the rigours of academic study. Even small amounts of funding can help at what is considered a tipping point in many athletes’ careers when the challenges of juggling conflicting demands are at their peak.’ 

As well as attracting the very best students to Bath, the scholarships allow Bath to keep their alumni involved with the university. Donors are invited to ceremonies awarding the scholarships, and to send in encouragement postcards to the new scholars. Andrew Monk, Deputy-Director of Development and Alumni Relations says: “Our outstanding scholars range from innovative engineers to elite athletes and gifted musicians. They all contribute greatly to the University community and we are proud to have them here. Our scholarships help us to ensure that the brightest and best students, whatever their background, have the opportunity to benefit from all that a Bath education has to offer.”

King’s College, London – Dickson Poon School of Law

Up to 75 Dickson Poon scholarships from £18,000 to £36,000 are awarded annually to students who have been offered a place to study law. This is the largest Law scholarship programme in the United Kingdom and Europe, made possible by a gift of £20 million from Hong Kong-based philanthropist Mr Dickson Poon – the school was renamed to honour him. They are awarded purely on academic merit, without hardship consideration. Some are Proven Potential awards, given to exceptional applicants as part of the UCAS process. Future Potential awards must be applied for, and are awarded based on a specially-written essay and interview, considered separately from the UCAS form, so independent of grades and history. “All applicants will already have been offered places at the school, so are of a high calibre,” says James Lee, Director of Undergraduate admissions and scholarships. “The essay and interview used to gauge the way the candidate thinks, their ability to argue and their engaging interest rather than their previous knowledge.”

The Raffan Scholarship awards £36,000 to first-time undergraduates from a non-selective state school with household income of £20,000 or less – applications are encouraged from students who have been in Local Authority care, or similar residential provision for young homeless adults, who will be given priority consideration. The Tynybedw Law Bursary, worth £25,000 over a three-year period is open to Welsh-domiciled applicants with an annual household income of £50,020 or less. Both of these awards are made possible by the support of named alumni. “Scholarships let the stand-out candidates from a group of already outstanding students be recognised and supported.” says James Lee. “A law degree is not purely a path into law – we hope that our exceptional students will be among the great minds and global leaders of tomorrow. The quality of the student body as a whole is enhanced by attracting exceptional candidates. The relationship with alumni for future engagement, not just financial but building ongoing dialogue and involvement with the School of Law, and College, can be started earlier.”

Queen Mary University of London

As one of the UK’s leading research-focused higher education institutions, it’s not surprising that Queen Mary’s scholarship profile is strong in medical sciences, where they offer three Abernethy Scholarships to assist students with exceptional academic ability and aptitude for a medical or dental career, who might not undertake the course for financial reason. Two medical and one dental scholarship are awarded per year – The John Aberbethy Scholarship, Dean Rees Scholarship and Dame Margaret Seward Scholarships. Each is valued at £3,500 per annum for the duration of the course depending on academic progress. All students who enrol in the School of Medicine and Dentistry are considered, awarded on the basis of their household income, which must be below £25,000, reviewed annually. Candidates are selected at the end of their first semester based upon their FunMed exam results and the dental equivalent.

Imperial College, London

US scientific equipment firm Thermo Fisher launched scholarships for undergraduates at Imperial and four non-UK universities in 2014, enabling 24 outstanding students from lower-income families to study engineering or natural science. Each provides $5,000 (£3,250) annually to each student for up to four years, dependent on academic achievement. Specifically for Engineering, the Kingsbury Scholarships, established in 2012 supports gifted students with a full scholarship for the duration of their course, including tuition fee waiver and grant towards living costs. Alumnus Derek Kingsbury explains why he donated the scholarship. “I want to encourage more students to consider industrial and technical careers in the UK. I believe that investing in academic success and encouraging ambition and excellence in engineering students is vital to UK industry.” Candidates are required to spend at least nine months in industry, or commit to work placements during their course, to gain valuable insight into the sector.

As well as individual-led schemes like Kinsbury, Imperial College host many students (110 in 2014) across the academic portfolio with their Presidents Scholarships, group funded entirely by alumni. Each recipient gets £3,000 for their first year of study. “Alumnus continue to play a vital role in the College: helping us foster talent in our remarkable students and continuing to drive forward innovation and research,” says Professor Jeff Magee, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering. Donors join the Imperial 1851 circle, named after Prince Albert’s vision for a new scientific and cultural quarter in South Kensington which was made possible following the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Why do Imperial prioritise scholarships in fundraising? “We want the brightest young people to choose to study at Imperial and to be able to afford to do so. Scholarships play an important role in realising this aim. Offering financial support helps us to attract the most promising prospective students and young researchers who might otherwise consider accepting a place at other leading universities. The offer of a scholarship can also make study at Imperial possible for young people from lower-income families, for overseas students, and for doctoral students whose background or research interests make them ineligible for other funding.”

As the cost of a university education has moved closer to the American model of paid study, development of benefits in application culture have also grown, that have existed in the USA but not traditionally in this country. It is reassuring that establishments are prioritising scholarships to support exceptional students – bringing benefits to the establishment too.

Photo credit: Paul Grundy 




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