The Higher Education sector in the UK is going through a period of turmoil and uncertainty. In the face of significant cuts to both public and private funding sources, universities are struggling to find new ways to secure long term sustainability. Whilst the estimates vary widely, students applying this year could be faced with the prospect of debts approaching £75,000 by the time they graduate. Universities need to reassure these students that the expense will be worthwhile.
Last month we saw the University of Huddersfield take a pioneering step towards creating more scholarship opportunities by lending money to small businesses. The intent is that interest earned from the loan will enable the university to fund new scholarships for disadvantaged students in the future.
Whilst this move is commendable, and one that will no doubt be followed by other institutions, the fact of the matter is that this is a long term initiative which could bear fruit in a few years, but in the short term the amount of money raised from the scheme, and the number of students it will help, in the overall context of student debt, is just a drop in the ocean. Clearly we need to look for other solutions.
In the USA, where university students have long been accustomed to funding their own degrees, 85% of first time undergraduate students receive some type of government aid to support their studies*. For a four year degree, which on average costs $25,810 per annum, the average financial aid package received by these students was $6,932 each year . This means that the 85% of first time undergraduate students, on average, have 27% of their costs paid for by federal grants each year**.
In the UK, the National Scholarship Programme introduced by the government, will this year provide £100m for disadvantaged students from low income families. When matched by Universities, this can provide a student up to £6,000 during the course of their three year degree, plus an annual maintenance grant of up to £3,354 a year. With the average cost of a UK 3 year degree estimated at up to £75,000 (Source: Moneysupermarket) this represents approximately 21% of a student’s costs.
So far, this year, there are no figures available on the number of students who will receive this funding, but last year, when the funding available was £50m, 16,633*** awards were made, just 4% of last year’s UK applicants. With the funding pool increasing to £100m this year it is anticipated that the number of recipients will be larger.
In terms of supporting students in funding their education, there is clearly some way to go before the UK catches up with the financial support available in the USA. So it seems that a programme of scalable funding that can help both students and the universities is something that the sector as a whole would welcome.
In the current economic climate, companies may be more reluctant to fund research, but there is a way that the Higher Education Sector could look to companies for alternative funding, which would provide a more immediate benefit to the companies in terms of achieving specific business objectives as well as providing alternative funding opportunities for students.
As a Marketer of 20 years, I have worked with companies of all shapes and sizes as well as non profit organisations. The marketing benefits that partnerships between these two diverse types of organisations bring can be both immediate and long term. Being blunt about it, and putting aside all feelings of altruism and philanthropy, a company wants to sell its products, get its name in front of prospective customers, build its brand awareness and attract the top talent as its employees. Universities and the HE sector as a whole has hundreds of thousands of students with a need, which could be fulfilled through strategic marketing partnerships with carefully selected commercial organisations to create scholarship opportunities for the students and marketing opportunities for the companies.
There are some who will now be reeling in horror at what I am suggesting. Academia is not about short term commercial gain, but charities offer their logos, their brands, their supporters as incentives for companies to “donate” money all the time and make millions from it. We should be asking why isn’t the HE sector doing the same?
From the company’s point of view specific tactical marketing objectives can be achieved as well as strategic communication objectives, in terms of PR, Corporate Social Responsibility and brand building. Companies that are already offering scholarships, whether they are marketing led or HR led, also report advantages in terms of graduate selection and recruitment.
From the universities’ point of view, and for students and their parents, the advantages are self evident.
* Data from 2009/10 provided by Institute of Education Sciences, USA https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/figures/figure-ugl-1.asp
** Data from Report on Trends in Student Aid 2012 – College Board, USA
***HEFCE – 2012 – 13 final allocations for the National Scholarship Programme