The First Generation Scholars Scheme: helping talented students to succeed

New students at any English university in 2012 will face significantly changed fee and student support arrangements, as the Government massively reduces teaching and capital grants and shifts the balance of funding of higher education from the taxpayer to graduates.

Our First Generation Scholars Scheme is designed to ensure that talented students can benefit from the education Sussex provides, irrespective of their personal circumstances.

Claire Mackie

Currently, over 20 per cent of our intake is made up of talented students from poorer backgrounds. It is important that students such as these understand that they can take advantage of the education and opportunities offered by Sussex.

In considering the fees that the University should charge under the new funding regime, we, of course, looked at the financial implications for Sussex of different fee levels, given the massive scale of funding cuts proposed by the Government. But we actually devoted a great deal more time to looking at how we should design our student-support package.

We will be more than tripling the amount we spend each year on attracting and supporting students from a wide range of backgrounds. And now that other universities’ access agreements have been published, we can indeed see that our package of support – providing £3,000 in the first year and a further £1,000 a year – is among the most generous. Very importantly, we have extended this package of support to the widest number of low-income students – by setting the family income limit at £42,600, the maximum possible.

The scheme will support students whose parents have not been to university, as well as those from low-income families: it is precisely these students who might otherwise lack the ‘social capital’ to make the most of their education, skills and experience.

Our scheme includes:

  • free summer schools for students to help them prepare for the transfer to university;
  • direct means-tested financial support to students of at least £1,000 a year while they study at Sussex – plus a £2,000 first-year fee waiver or the equivalent in rent reduction (£50 a week) to help students live on campus;
  • a work-study programme to help students earn money while studying;
  • funded placements to help students gain work experience;
  • three years’ aftercare for students to help them into a graduate career.

All of these elements in the programme are backed by evidence of what works – from our own experience in delivering widening participation schemes and from academic research.

For example, attendance on summer schools can double the chance of someone from a less privileged background reaching university. Similarly, a short placement during a programme can significantly boost both degree attainment and the chance of getting a wellpaid graduate job.

As well as supporting our own students, this kind of investment will also benefit schools and businesses in the region, as Sussex students will provide 30,000 hours a year of mentoring to pupils (ten times the amount currently). We will also fund hundreds of internships and work placements with local firms, as the evidence is that this dramatically improves students’ achievement and graduate job prospects.

The scheme itself will be underpinned by a major new expansion of the University’s partnership work with schools and colleges to raise the aspirations of students from age 11 onwards. We also hope the scheme will attract philanthropic support to enhance the provision that we can offer. It is encouraging to see that our plans have already inspired the Hollick Family Charitable Trust, matched by Honeywell Hometown Solutions, to make a gift to the scheme, which will allow us to offer support to even more students.

I myself was the first in my family to go to university, and I believe this scheme will allow the brightest students the opportunity to come to Sussex, regardless of personal circumstances.