Participation Grant helps disadvantaged students get involved

At the start of the 2016-17 school year, the University of Edinburgh implemented an Activities and Sports Participation Grant for the first time. The grant aims to help students from more disadvantaged backgrounds overcome financial barriers associated with extracurricular activities. It was promoted and administered by the Students’ Association with a focus on existing scholarship students, and 126 students – out of 130 total applicants – were assisted in the pilot year.

The new initiative came as a result of a 2016 survey by the university which revealed that students from more disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to engage with sports and societies, citing “finances” as one of the most common reasons. Financial burdens associated with societies are considerable – it costs £25 to join the Student Chamber Choir for one year, for example. Even societies that demand less equipment or travel still come at a price: it’s £6 for a year-long membership in the Chocolate Society, and £10 to join the Pole Dancing Society.

Even more fiscally restrictive than societies are sports clubs, most of which require a gym membership in addition to any team membership fee. A year-long, all-inclusive membership at the Pleasance costs £171; a membership without climbing and bouldering access still totals £120. The considerable jump in price between societies and sports was highlighted by an analysis of grant allocations, which revealed that 75 per cent of funded students were involved with sports. Going forward, the Students’ Association is working closely with the Sports Union to ensure that the majority of grant funds in the next few years are focused on athletic participation. The Sports Union is also working with the sports centre to cut down on the gym membership requirement for many clubs.

For 2018, the Students’ Association has again been awarded university funds to take the grant into a third year, with students able to apply for up to £100. The grant is available to UK undergraduate students at the University of Edinburgh, UK postgraduate students who did their undergraduate degree at the University of Edinburgh and even to international students studying at Edinburgh as either an undergraduate or a postgraduate.

Initiatives like the Participation Grant are byproducts of an increasing attentiveness to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This extracurricular assistance comes on the heels of reform to the academic admissions process, with the University citing a 20 per cent increase in acceptances from SIMD20 students who had been made an offer to study in 2017 as “the impact of contextual admissions”. 

SIMD20 refers to Nicola Sturgeon’s 2014 goal that “a child born today in one of our most deprived communities will, by the time he or she leaves school, have the same chance of going to university as a child born in one of our least deprived communities.” In her Programme for Government, Sturgeon outlined a plan in which 20 per cent of university entrants would come from the most deprived 20 per cent of the country by 2030. The government’s Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) is the basis for quantitative measurement of this goal. In response to the increase of SIMD20 students, the University of Edinburgh is “developing a new widening participation strategy.” It will build off of successes from the first year of the Participation Grant, in which 43 per cent of funded students were in receipt of a Scotland Accommodation Bursary and 56 per cent were in receipt of a Rest of UK (RUK) Bursary. 

Image: Andrew Perry

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The Student Newspaper 2016