Tackling elitism and social stratification: The Edinburgh Fund

With our liberation-themed edition well under way, it is important to highlight what the university is doing to tackle the elitism and social stratification which now comes with the reputation of Russel Group universities.

Outside of London, only the universities of Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, and Warwick are attracting a representative proportion of the UK’s ethnic minority population. Whilst it is certainly true that class division is a key cause of social elitism at university, it is often BAME groups that find themselves at the bottom of the economic ladder. University fees have risen starkly in recent decades and education -which is all too frequently championed as the enabler of social mobility – now risks exacerbating economic disparity. According to a report by the Trades Union Congress, it was found that black workers with a degree were paid £4.30 an hour less on average than white graduates.
Black students who went university are unable to earn as much as their white counterparts, despite the supposed existence of an equal playing ground. Therefore for those who did not even go to university, an even more significantly disadvantaged financial position can only be assumed. This limits the ability of their children to obtain a higher education.

The Edinburgh Fund is a key player in the University of Edinburgh’s aim of promoting social diversity. Their work affects not just BAME students, it also impacts a wide range of people from varying disadvantaged backgrounds. In order to understand both what exactly it is that they do, how they do it, and what The Fund has achieved (both from a personal and statistical point of view), I spoke with Christopher Bobby, the Senior Development Officer and overseer of the Edinburgh Fund’s Telephone Campaigns.

Can you give readers who may be unaware of the Edinburgh Fund a summary of what it is and what you raise money for?

The Edinburgh Fund has been supporting students at the University ever since the University of Edinburgh Development Trust was established in 1990. There are three key strands of the Fund: innovative teaching and learning; research and community impact; global experiences and scholarships. It boils down to one simple thing – opportunity. We want those that have the talent and ability to be given the opportunity to come here, to have the opportunity to enhance their studies, to broaden their horizons and to excel.

What has working for the Edinburgh Fund taught you about the importance of social diversity?

It’s hugely important! Last year we had the most successful calling team in UK Higher Education. Why? Our callers come from a richly diverse set of backgrounds. Six of the seven continents are represented in the call room (sorry Antarctica), we have both undergrad and postgrad students, mature students, parents, scholarship recipients, Edinburgh natives…the list goes on. The opportunities to learn from one another, that is the real strength of our team.

Why do you believe student involvement in the Fund, such as the role of student callers, is so important?

For starters, our alumni aren’t really interested in hearing from the likes of me! My most recent experience of being a student finished three years ago so when I speak it’s not with the same perspective and experience that a current student can provide.

We also live in a world with lots of different people blasting out lots of different messages across multiple media. How many emails, social media posts and flyers do you receive on any given day?

When you factor in these two things, I think that our alumni really appreciate the opportunity to have a chat with current students over the phone.

What has surprised you most about working for the Edinburgh Fund?

I have learnt so much from working with our callers – it really scares me how much more difficult it is to get a student flat these days. I’ve also had the benefit of seeing some of the amazing things that students and colleagues have done with the funding we have been able to raise. The fact that students are using the skills they have learnt, whilst they are still studying, to positively impact the world was not something that I expected to see. A famous example is Project Elpis,) but that really is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ingenuity at the University.

Are there any exciting projects on the way?

One of the benefits of being in this role is that I get a sense of all the different activity across the University that is working towards improving life for our students. The most exciting thing that is happening right now is the latest changes to how our scholarships work. Care experienced students or those estranged from their families will now be eligible for a new £5,000 per year scholarship from 2020.
It shows that we are going in the right direction to helping those from the most difficult of backgrounds get the opportunity to study.

 

Image: via wikimedia commons

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