More than money
The partner of one investment company reveals how its £15,000 scholarships are changing students’ lives
A scholarship scheme giving students cash – and contacts
CONFUSION OVER Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to “deal with” student debt has propelled the issue of financial support into the political agenda in recent weeks.
But at one sixth-form college in London, financial aid for students from deprived backgrounds with university aspirations has been made available from an altogether more unusual source: a private equity firm.
So far, six £15,000 scholarships have been awarded to students at Christ the King Sixth Form College, with a further three due to be awarded in September, bringing the total support fund to £135,000. The scholarship is paid for by Metric Capital, a capital fund management company, and is believed to be the first partnership of its kind between a college and a business.
John Sinik (pictured, right), the firm’s managing partner, was introduced to the college by Seni Fawehinmi, whom he had met through a mentoring scheme designed to partner up deprived children with an adult mentor.
“When I first met Seni he was 10 years old,” Sinik says. “He lived on the Isle of Dogs. His father had left, his brother had passed away from a blood disease and he was in a tough spot. We remain very close today.”
When Fawehinmi enrolled at the college, he introduced his mentor to the principal and head of social outreach. From this meeting, the Metric scholarships were born.
Sinik was inspired to create the programme after encountering aspirational and highperforming students at the college who, despite wanting to go to university, simply couldn’t afford it. “It’s a crippling experience for many people to come out of university massively in debt,” he says. “Tuition fees are only part of the expense of going to university. There are living expenses that can be overwhelming for people, and ultimately drive their decision not to go.”
Three Metric scholarships are awarded every year – one to a student attending each of the three colleges that make up Christ the King.
The students are selected according to academic performance and financial means testing, before undergoing a formal interview. And the relationship doesn’t come to an end once the student heads off to university: they are required to update Sinik each term about how well they’re performing academically, and what they are spending the money on.
Collegiate principal Jane Overbury likens Sinik’s approach to the mentoring offered in the TV show Dragon’s Den, explaining that the students receive personal advice and access to a large list of relevant contacts.
“John’s quite clear: it’s not [just] about the living expenses – it’s access to books and resources and materials that some of our students might struggle to have access to without these kind of funds being available,” she says. “John has called for other businesses to take on this kind of role. We would support that because it’s so individual, it’s so personal to students…it’s not just about money.”
Trevor Gomes, one of the Metric scholars, says that the money he receives helps with
expenses such as buying books. “It makes a significant difference, especially with travel expenses,” he says.
Sinik, who had to take out a student loan to pay for his own university education in the US, acknowledges that the Metric scholarship programme at one college will “not change the world”, and that the wider issue of making university more affordable to financially disadvantaged students still needs to be addressed.
But he insists that the project has made a life-changing difference to the individual recipients of the scholarships.
“I think if you can change the outlook and the experience for one individual or for 10 individuals, it is quite personally rewarding,” Sinik says. “And so that’s really what we’ve tried to do.”
Last year, higher education maintenance grants worth up to £3,387 to students whose families earned less than £25,000 were abandoned and replaced with maintenance loans.
“Financial support for students looking to attend university is severely insufficient,” says Amatey Doku, vice-president for higher education at the NUS students’ union. “This hits those from disadvantaged backgrounds the hardest: since maintenance grants were scrapped in favour of loans, those from the least well-off backgrounds will come away with the highest levels of debt.”
Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, says that despite the opportunities afforded by sixth-form college education for students from deprived backgrounds, programmes such as the Metric scholarships can offer invaluable support to remove financial barriers.
“A good sixth-form education can make a real difference,” Watkin says. “It can excite young people about the possibilities and it can offer keys to open doors to wonderful opportunities. But what it cannot do is remove all concerns about the costs associated with going to university – and that is why initiatives such as this are so important.”
‘It’s a crippling experience for many people to come out of university massively in debt’