Are private firms the key to unlocking student debt?

11th August 2017 at 14:02
One investment company is offering £15,000 scholarships to college students from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them go to university

Confusion over Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to “deal with” student debt has propelled the issue of financial support into the political agenda in recent weeks.

But at one sixth-form college in London, financial aid for students from deprived backgrounds with university aspirations has been made available from an altogether more unusual source: a private equity firm.

So far, six £15,000 scholarships have been awarded to students at Christ the King Sixth Form College, with a further three due to be awarded in September, bringing the total support fund to £135,000. The scholarship is paid for by Metric Capital, a capital fund management company, and it is believed to be the first partnership of its kind between a college and a business.

Inspired by students at the college

John Sinik, the firm’s managing partner, was introduced to the college by Seni Fawehinmi, whom he had met through a scheme designed to partner up deprived children with an adult mentor.

“When I first met Seni he was 10 years old,” Sinik says. “He lived on the Isle of Dogs. His father had left, his brother had passed away from a blood disease and he was in a tough spot. We remain very close today.”

When Fawehinmi enrolled at the college, he introduced his mentor to the principal and head of social outreach. From this meeting, the Metric scholarships were born.

Sinik was inspired to create the programme after encountering aspirational and high-performing students at the college who, despite wanting to go to university, simply couldn’t afford it. “It’s a crippling experience for many people to come out of university massively in debt,” he says. “Tuition fees are only part of the expense of going to university. There are living expenses that can be overwhelming for people, and ultimately drive their decision not to go.”

Selection process

Three Metric scholarships are awarded every year – one to a student attending each of the three colleges that make up Christ the King.

The students are selected according to academic performance and financial means-testing, before undergoing a formal interview. And the relationship doesn’t come to an end once the student heads off to university: they are required to update Sinik each term about how well they’re performing academically, and what they are spending the money on.

Collegiate principal Jane Overbury likens Sinik’s approach to the mentoring offered in the TV show Dragons' Den, explaining that the students receive personal advice and access to a large list of relevant contacts.

“John’s quite clear: it’s not [just] about the living expenses – it’s access to books and resources and materials that some of our students might struggle to have access to without these kind of funds being available,” she says. “John has called for other businesses to take on this kind of role. We would support that because it’s so individual, it’s so personal to students…it’s not just about money.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 11 August edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here. and iOS users can click hereTes magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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