Posted Friday 24 August 2018
Students from lower income backgrounds, care leavers and learners who are estranged from their families are set to benefit from an expanded programme of support at Kingston University as a result of a substantial injection of funding from the Mohn Westlake Foundation. The Foundation funds a range of activities tackling poverty and enhancing young people's educational opportunities.
The donation of £835,000, which has been made possible by an alumna, will enable the expansion of Kingston University's successful Head Start programme as well as bolster support specifically aimed at young independent students who do not have backing or financial help from their families.
The University's Head of Access, Participation and Inclusion Jenni Woods – whose team runs the Head Start programme – said the funding would mean the institution could soon boost the chances of up to 800 more students through these support streams.
"We are immensely grateful as this incredible gift is going to change lives," she said. Head Start, Ms Woods explained, included an intensive three-day orientation programme designed specifically for students who came from groups traditionally under-represented in higher education, including families earning less than £25,000, disabled students, care leavers and young carers.
"As well as making their first friends, those taking part in the programme are given advice on how to manage finances, seek support, juggle studies and find a job so when they start in September it's not such a daunting experience as they already have a network of people and support they can turn to," she said. "Our evaluation shows that students who attend the Head Start preparation events are more likely to pass their first year than eligible students who don't attend – and in fact even have a slightly higher success rate than the general student population."
– the social events were great for meeting new people and I was given clear and helpful advice. The programme continues to support me through personal tutors and has given me a huge boost of confidence in my ability to succeed in my studies."
Jenni Woods said the money from the Mohn Westlake Foundation would mean the University would be able to more than double the number of students who would benefit from this transformational programme during the next three years – with some 600 places to be funded in 2021.
The extra investment would also mean students estranged from their relatives could be offered the critical support they would ordinarily receive at home or from their local councils, she added. "Our programme for care leavers started 10 years ago and as part of it we have also been supporting students between the ages of 16 and 18 who haven't been placed in care but who have become estranged from their families," Ms Woods said.
The University has worked closely with an organisation called Stand Alone, which provides support services to estranged adults and Kingston was one of the first 10 institutions in the United Kingdom to take the Stand Alone pledge to commit to supporting students in this situation.
Thanks to the financial boost provided by the donation, the University would be able to help 240 such students in the next three years, Ms Woods said. "This is really vital because when these learners reach their 18th birthday they don't even have local authority support, so are often at risk of homelessness and of falling through the cracks" she added. "The additional resources will enable us to identify many more of these students and provide them with the bursaries and targeted services they need to flourish."
Kingston University Vice-Chancellor Professor Steven Spier said the Mohn Westlake donation would help the University to further cement its position as a sector leader in widening access to higher education. "We run a number of robustly tested activities to support individuals from primary school right through to university," he said. "We continue to see growth in these most disadvantaged sections of society and with these additional resources it is our aspiration to give hundreds more of these learners the same opportunities as their better-off peers."