Guest Blog by Naomi Smith, External Relations, Birkbeck College, University of London
Universities actively want to widen access to higher education. We want to attract the broadest range of students possible, in order to give everyone the best chance to succeed in life, regardless of background or current circumstances.
That’s why, in the academic year 2013/14, universities and colleges in the UK spent £92.6 million on outreach activities under their access agreements. Outreach is defined as activity conducted by universities and colleges with the aim of raising aspirations, awareness and attainment among young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
For example, some universities run summer schools, such as the University of Bath’s Autism Summer School, a residential event which allows students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to experience all facets of student life on campus.
At Birkbeck, we run a series of monthly workshops called Get Started, aimed at prospective students, which are designed to help students take their first steps towards higher education. We run through fees and funding, the benefits and challenges of studying, and the process of a writing a personal statement.
The majority of universities and colleges offer bursaries and grants to help cover the extra costs of studying. These are paid annually, do not have to be repaid, and can be received on top of any student loans or grants claimed.
Many will also offer fee waivers; these will reduce the loan that students have to pay back after they have graduated and are earning upwards of a certain amount.
While the maintenance grant will not be available for 2016 entry onwards, there is still some government funding available to disadvantaged students. This includes Childcare Grants, Adult Dependants’ Grants, the Parents’ Learning Allowance and the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA).
The DSA, for example, is intended to help towards any additional costs that a student may face because of their disability, mental health condition or specific learning disability. It is provided in addition to the regular student finance package and does not have to be repaid.
It is not affected by household income and looks at the specific needs of the individual in relation to their circumstances and their studies. In other words, students are not just given a lump sum that they can spend in any way they choose; the money will be provided to cover specific costs, such as a scribe or Dictaphone.
It’s so important that students know that aspects such as their race, class, health or gender don’t have to be obstacles on their way to or through higher education. By working with both parents and universities, teachers can take the first steps towards helping students realise their full potential in a practical and meaningful way.
University isn’t going to be right for everyone but it’s important to make sure that everyone gets the chance to choose.