The Right Hon. Charles Kennedy MP, last week launched this year’s Glasgow University Talent Scholarship drive.
Designed to aid students who could face financial difficulties in taking up their place to study at Glasgow, fifty scholarships worth £1000 are being awarded each year.
Mr. Kennedy, the current University rector, delivered the awards to the first 76 beneficiaries of the scholarship at a ceremony attended by recipients and donors.
Kennedy told Guardian why he is promoting the scheme.
He said: “It’s about widening the opportunity for people from backgrounds where financially they wouldn’t be able to come to university, although they’ve got the academic qualifications to do it.
“I was the first member of my family ever to go to university, and I’m the youngest of three, but my parental income was such that I qualified for a full maintenance grant. But suppose I had been the eldest of three, and there were two other mouths to feed, I wonder if that would have been a contributing factor.
“Of course we’re talking about 30 years ago when the level of student cost and debt was nothing compared to what it is today, so there are bound to be people from lower income backgrounds that are put off by the thought of ‘Can I afford it? Is it for me? And am I just going to emerge with a mountain of personal debt round my neck for the rest of my life?’ So the more you can widen the access to university the better, without a shadow of a doubt.”
The Talent Scholarships are open to any UK-based undergraduates studying for their first degree at the University of Glasgow. The scheme, which is now in its second year, judges potential recipients on the basis of their ability and financial position.
Michael O’Neill, a second year English Literature student and recipient of the Talent Scholarship, highlighted how the scheme has helped him to benefit further from his university experience at Glasgow, and allowed him to explore his opportunities outside of the lecture theatre.
He told Guardian: “I wouldn’t say it’s the case that without it my university attendance would be in jeopardy. Getting through is down to an accumulation of such things; grants, loans, bursaries and employment.
“Without the scholarship I definitely would have to work through term-time — so what it’s done for me has allowed me to focus on my studies; and given me time to enjoy extra-curricular activities, such as involvement with Student Theatre at Glasgow (STaG).”
Not every aspect of the scheme has proved popular, however, as O’Neill has some reservations about what he calls the “Magwitch Moment”.
He said: “I object, in a somewhat slight and timid voice, to the decision, in some cases, to inform the recipient of the identity of the person who donated their scholarship — just because it seems a little smug, and enforces a feeling of indebtedness to the well-off elite that isn’t really in the spirit of the scheme. Though saying that I do feel very, very grateful.”
Mr. Kennedy, however, is keen to see more direct involvement from Glasgow University Alumni.
He told Guardian: “I secured a Fulbright Scholarship to go and study in the United States for the year after I graduated from Glasgow. That was a terrific opportunity obviously, which wouldn’t have otherwise come my way, as I didn’t have the finances to contemplate that sort of thing.
“What’s really good about these scholarships is, I assume when you hear the word ‘scholarship’, you’ve got to be very wealthy to consider setting up a scholarship.
“The beauty of these is that for £1000 a year, people can provide a scholarship for an undergraduate student. £1000 is a lot of money, particularly to a student who couldn’t otherwise come to university, but in truth, even in a recession, there are an awful lot of people for whom £1000, if that was their one charitable giving for the year, is affordable.
“I think there are an awful lot of people of a certain income out there, who are not multimillionaires or anything like that, who if they realised ‘Gosh, I could achieve or deliver a scholarship for that amount of money’, would do so.”
It is hoped that the drive will see least 200 students per year benefit from the annual award by 2012.