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A tangible solution to problem of high uni drop-out rates

AFTER PASSING A-Levels in Business, English and Information Communication Technology, Trevor Gomes, a student at Christ the King College, St Mary’s campus, is studying business management and entrepreneurship at Westminster University.

It was the perfect course for Gomes, but he may never have realised his dream had it not been for the help he received from the Metric Scholarship, founded by US-born finance chief John Sinik, who decided he wanted to help talented young people who come from some of the poorest areas of south London and Kent.

DEBT

Sinik, the founder of Metric Capital, a London-based European private capital group, says:

“The problem is that students are coming out of university with a tremendous amount of debt. The result is that there are a lot of very bright young men and women who unfortunately cannot go to university – economically, it just doesn’t make sense.”

For Gomes, this is why the Metric Scholarship made such a difference to his future ambitions. He says:

“I’m the first person from my household to go to university and the money I receive from the Metric Scholarship has helped to pay for books and travel expenses. More importantly, the funding has made a significant difference in my ability to focus on my tuition, resulting in me receiving the highest achievement award for the course I’m studying.”

As part of his scholarship package, he meets with the Metric Scholarship team every term and discusses his academic progress and the challenges he faces.

However, many students from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are not in such a fortunate position.

According to figures from the Social Market Foundation, an independent think tank, unveiled recently approximately one in 10 (10.3 per cent) black students leave their courses before graduation, compared to 6.9 per cent of the student population overall.

These figures have been supported by recent research published by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), an in- dependent public body that regulates fair access to higher education in England. According to OFFA, black students have an almost 150 per cent greater likelihood of not continuing at university, compared with white and Asian students.

Professor Les Ebdon, the director at Fair Access to Higher Education, told The Voice:

“The findings published by the OFFA are no surprise. I have been trying to publish data about this issue since becoming the body’s director, but unfortunately people have been in denial. Now the OFFA research findings have revealed what has been a hidden disgrace.”

Research by the National Union of Students has found that financial difficulty among students is the main reason for contemplating leaving university education.

Yet according to OFFA, less than 10 per cent of institutions offer financial support specifically targeted towards students from BAME backgrounds.

Liverpool John Moores University is an exception. It works with the Crown Proecution Service and the Anthony Walker Foundation, to offer a £500 per year cash bursary and a £1,000 fee waiver to two BAME students who study law or law and criminal justice at the university.

It was these issues that inspired Sinik to set up the Metric Scholarship three years ago.

MENTORING

He became involved with a UK-based mentoring programme called Big Brother. When one of the young people he met via the scheme, Seni Fawehinmi, went on to study A-Levels at Christ the King, Sinik decided to set up a scholarship scheme to help other young people like him. The scholarship provides three students a year with £15,000, over a period of three years of study.

“When I see the impact the scholarship has on young lives it reminds me that the financial investment is worthwhile” he says.

“A number of students who receive assistance would not have been able to complete their university courses and enter various careers without Metric’s support.

“The Government is under serious pressure and there needs to be more input from the private sector to ensure change is made.”

He adds:

“To encourage more private sector investment, they should receive tax incentives. Currently, there is a sense of inequality and that is unlikely to change unless we recognise and bridge the financial disparities that exist between university students.

“The fact that there are loans available to fund tuition is great, but the massive living expenses that students incur means that many cannot pursue their dream careers.”

Dr. Jane Overbury, collegiate principal of Christ the King Sixth Form College, says the Metric Scholarships are game-changers for the students awarded one each year, not just in terms of financial support, but the contacts they develop for their future careers. She says:

“For young people whose families don’t have contacts in the professions, developing a relationship with a City company like Metric is invaluable. It gives them access to professions they might not even have been aware existed. It also develops a sense of professionalism and focus, which is probably just as crucial as examination success when it comes to careers and success in adult life.

SUPPORT

“And having access to a sizeable pot of money to help with the expenses of university life means that students who might be put off university by lack of financial support can fulfil their potential.”

But, a lack of financial support is only one of the factors contributing to the disturbing drop-out rate among black students at university. Difficulties forming relationships with students and academics of other ethnicities and a lack of cultural connection to he curriculum are other reasons why black students drop out, researchers have said.

Professor Ebdon agrees. He says:

“Many BAME university students feel they don’t belong when studying at certain universities, or are viewed as loners by their peers, who don’t appreciate the cultural background. For example, if there is a strong culture of drinking alcohol in certain universities, this will exclude Muslim students, while some social activities may require financial expenditure, which isn’t readily available.”

Ebdon adds:

“It shouldn’t be assumed that it is always the students’ fault for dropping out of university. Educational institutions need to ask themselves why many of their history curriculums focus on the British past, rather than global history? Or in the field of economics why is it that rich western models of finance are generally studied?”

Ebdon, in his role as the director at Fair Access to Higher Education, visits universities to identify and suggest good practice models, in areas of retainment and achievement among BAME university students.

TOOLS

The professor says:

“I like to provide universities with the tools to evaluate their practices and improve. If they don’t use these tools, I can refuse to sign off their access agreement, which means they cannot charge full-time undergraduates the higher fees of over £6,000 per year for their courses. Conversely if universities do apply suggestions I can champion their achievements. Some universities have said the non-continuation rate among black students is a difficult problem to unravel, but it can be solved.”

Despite the challenges black students face there have been improvements in some areas. For example, over the past 10 years, access to universities among black students has increased by 82 per cent – more than any other ethnic group.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said that although more students from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to and staying at university than ever before, “there is more work to do”. He added:

“The Higher Education and Research Act will go further by requiring all providers – including the most selective, to publish application, drop-out and attainment data by gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background. This will hold universities to account and help students to make informed choices about where they go to study.

“The Teaching Excellence Framework is also refocusing the sector’s attention on teaching; putting in place incentives that will raise standards and encourage providers to support students throughout their studies and equip the next generation of graduates for success.”

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