More than money

The part­ner of one in­vest­ment com­pany reveals how its £15,000 schol­ar­ships are chang­ing stu­dents’ lives

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - EDITORIAL - Will martin

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.”

Se­lec­tion process

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’

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