Feedback welcomed from the HEAdviser community – Comment by Colin, a Careers Adviser in the South East

A student asked me a question the other day which I would welcome the thoughts of other members of the Community on. She wanted to attend an Open Day at Swansea University, but was worried about the cost : she lives with her mum, who is on benefits. She asked me if there was any way the College could help her with the cost of this trip. 
Now, we encourage students to go to as many Open Days as they can, don’t we ? Some schools and Colleges organise group visits. This student was “pushing her luck” a bit by asking for financial assistance for her mum to go with her ( ! ) but leaving that aside, she has a point. Is there not a danger that with rail fares as steep as they now are, some students from less – well – off homes will be at a disadvantage.

I did ask this student if she had a Young Persons Railcard, and she claimed to have no knowledge of such a thing (after all, how many young people would travel by train on a regular basis ? )  although it would have saved her quite a bit of money. I also know, from my sisters accounts of driving her daughter to several Open Days and interviews, just how expensive it can be – and my sister, the widow of a Merchant Banker, is not short of a bob or two. I remember when I was invited to interview at Cardiff back in the 1960’s, my mothers comment was “well, you can’t go, can you?” In the end, I did some extra paper rounds to raise the fare.
I do not think FE Colleges or Schools should be distributing largesse, but I would welcome colleagues comments on their experiences of supporting students who would like to go to Open Days but would genuinely have difficulty finding the money. No – one at my College appeared to have even considered the issue, and everyone I spoke to thought it should be somebody else’s problem.
Any useful observations welcome


11 Responses to Feedback welcomed from the HEAdviser community – Comment by Colin, a Careers Adviser in the South East

  1. Ginnie says:

    We have a small Aim Higher budget available to our 6th formers for such circumstances. This can also subsidise medlink etc.
    We also have a gifted and talented budget across the whole school which is usually used for enrichment, but may be accessed for individual claims.
    I’m not familiar with the national deployment strategy or individual beauracracy systems for these funds, but I guess it’s worth asking around about them.

  2. L Taylor says:

    Any opportunity for the Aim Higher Funding?

  3. Colin

    Interesting to read your e-mail about expense for students and family wanting to go to Open Days

    The costs of distance travelling can be pretty prohibitive

    One thought… is it worth getting in touch with Swansea University to see whether they may be able to help

    Even if they cannot it is probably worth letting them know that there are UCAS applicants out there who are unable to take advantage of their Open Day events due to transport costs….

    Shane de Lacy (School’s Careers Adviser)

  4. T OLLERENSHAW says:

    Some interesting points raised about access to open days. In my sixth form we used to have an access fund for these purposes and also students could also apply to the authority. It would seem to me that the Aim Higher funds could have been nationally used for this purpose, what we really need is fairness across the country.

    Tony ollerenshaw

  5. Penny says:

    This is a significant issue which does seem to be a bit overlooked. I went to a presentation (in London) given by the University of Aberdeen, who reckon that if students once visit, they will love it and quite likely apply, but our students simply can’t afford to visit Aberdeen to see whether they would like to apply. Aberdeen are beginning to run ‘virtual’ open days, which is a help, although in the end not as good as visiting in person.

    Student railcards are ok, but cost about £25 per year; the main feature of rail fares is their variability according to how and when you book them. It is possible to travel long distances quite cheaply, if you book far enough in advance, but not many 6th formers plan so far in advance, although we can encourage them. I think it would also be worth raising greater awareness at HE institutions – some invite students to post-application visit days with very little notice, as though quite unaware of the financial implications of this.

    In our local authority (I don’t know about others) there is a post-16 travel grant pot of money – this could perhaps be explored as a means of supporting students in travelling to open days, but would need processing by the school/college. Where schools/colleges have Aimhigher money, this might be a means of supporting students but that would mean moving down the line of distributing largesse.

  6. Jackie Powell says:

    It would be worth approaching the Aimhigher Co-ordinator in the school or college. Theoretically help could be given for individual students who fit the Aimhigher profile (postcode etc.), although it isn’t mandatory and in some cases funds will already have been allocated so not available.

  7. Julia says:

    have you tried the Learner Support Fund? Presumably the student is receiving EMA and so may be eligible for a payment from the discretionary LSF.

    or from the Aim Higher budget. I know some colleges who have a process sorted out so that students that are part of the Aim Higher targets can get help with costs associated with their plan to go to uni.

  8. Christine Thomas says:

    This is such an important issue that you raise and must affect loads of strudents. I guess it means that students really need to do their desk research even more throuroughly than ever since they certainly won’t be able to visit limitless open days and will need to be pretty sure they like the look of a place and course before visiting – they need to be using all the websites not just UCAS but also unistats etc.

    Something that I have heard colleges doing more is setting up camera links to a uni – an existing student say at Swansea would talk face to face to your college student via webcam and perhaps via Facebook could send some photos or even film footage of the uni. This won’t replace an open day visit but may help in prioritising which to visit. A student with a bit of oomph – and it sound like yours has got some for asking for financial help in the first place – could contact the student union at Swansea and ask for a student to contact her – they all communicate via face book these days so prob possible – just an idea!

  9. Anthony Fitzgerald says:

    Dare I say a bit of forward planning might reduce cost to open days – I know it is not always in my nature or those of year 12 students but there could be some advantages – namely megabus and megatrain that offer some very cheap deals if you book in advance. The website is worth a trawl through to work out the key dates – I guess car sharing would be good if more than one student wants to visit a particular uni as well and certainly ecological and economical.

  10. Jane says:

    Interesting point. Could the college organise subsidised trips to open days? Young Person’s Railcard is a useful option as you save a third on the fare. Perhaps some funding could be made available for these if organising a trip/coach is not possible?
    On the other hand as part of widening access unversities could consider making financial suppport available. There are other ways of finding out about uni’s too, virtually there are lots of resources.

  11. David says:

    It’s not unusual for students to get such funding or a contribution to it via F. E. colleges on a means tested discretionary basis for such a trip.

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