University of Exeter: University of Exeter recognised for “financial lifeline” support for students during coronavirus pandemic

Exeter has been shortlisted as University of the Year in the UK Social Mobility Awards 2021 thanks to the Success for All Fund, set up as a response to the first lockdown. It has helped the most vulnerable students survive financially, stay well, keep a roof over their heads and continue with their studies.

The University was one of the first to launch a comprehensive funding scheme to support students in need due to Covid-19. Some students could no longer be supported by their families, were stranded far from home with little means of support, had caring responsibilities, were already without family support or had disabilities. To date, £2 million has been given to around 2,000 students.

Funding has been mainly spent on accommodation, food, and utilities, and also medical and quarantine expenses.

In the first four months, £371k was given to 488 students. Evaluation shows the fund has been a financial lifeline – 96 per cent of recipients said the help received was important in enabling them to continue their studies and 46 per cent believed the funding helped them avoid becoming homeless. Almost all students given the support said it had helped them avoid serious financial hardship, helped them concentrate on their studies, feel less anxious about money and helped them maintain their mental and physical health.

Proportionally more students of colour, those on low incomes, students from low participation and deprived neighbourhoods, and disabled students were recipients of funding.

The University of Exeter was highly commended in the Social Mobility Awards 2020 for its work in widening participation and supporting disadvantaged students to succeed at University. The University’s Centre for Social Mobility was also highly-commended for consultation with teachers and Covid-related schools research that highlighted the extent of disruption to education for school pupils, particularly those in low household incomes.

Nicola Sinclair, Head of Widening Participation and UK Student Recruitment, and Director (Practice) at the Centre for Social Mobility, said: “This financial safety net has ensured that, despite Covid-19, under-represented students have been able to study with us in greater numbers, stay in university and get good grades.

“During the first lockdown it became clear that a radical new approach was required to ensure hardship funds were accessible, quickly disbursed to those in need, and that staffing and systems could cope with unprecedented demand. We realised the situation for students could deteriorate rapidly without strong intervention.”

The scheme has been supported by a team of volunteers and is available via a new online platform which was built specifically for the purpose with the aim of making a one-stop shop for financial support for all students with an application process that is as stress-free as possible.

Funding comes from the University, donors, including Santander, and contributions from the Office for Students.

One student said: “It was unexpected yet a great help. I am so thankful to the University, they saved me. They saved me from being homeless and starving. The generosity of those involved in getting the fund was amazing. I am so proud to be a part of this university who really came together to help students like myself.”

Professor Tim Quine, University of Exeter Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education), said: “Throughout the pandemic, our priority has been to support all our students to be able to continue to engage with their studies and complete their learning journeys. We are keenly aware that the pandemic has had and continues to have variable impacts across our student body and can exacerbate pre-existing disadvantages. The interventions to mitigate these impacts include the financial support offered through the Success for All Fund and the academic safety nets provided through our No Detriment and No Disadvantage policies.

We are delighted that being shortlisting in this year’s UK Social Mobility Awards provides recognition for the hard work of many colleagues, students and student representatives across the University who enable us to demonstrate our commitment to Success for All of our students.”

The UK Social Mobility Awards 2021 recognise organisations who are making strides and creating initiatives to advance social mobility within their own workforce or beyond their own walls. The SOMOs were the first national awards dedicated to social mobility, recognising the forward-thinking organisations that are working to progress social mobility. Organised by social justice charity, Making The Leap, this year’s winners will be determined by an independent judging panel, made up of leading figures from business, charity and the public sector, and chaired by Sir Ken Olisa OBE. They will be announced at the awards gala on 14th October 2021.

Sir Ken Olisa OBE, who is also the HM Lord Lieutenant of London, said: “The war against Covid-19 has shown just how strong our nation is when we pull together. It has also shown how ‘we’ means people from every walk of life, heritage and ability. There can be no greater proof of the power of social mobility. Now that its value is beyond dispute ‘we’ must pull out all of the stops to make social mobility a reality – even in peacetime.”

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