Bursaries, scholarships and grants
How to ensure students make the most of the support available at university
As a disabled student from a single-parent, low-income household, taking advantage of all the university support available to me was imperative to enable me to make the most of HE. In this blog post, I would like to highlight the kinds of support typically available to students, the impact this support has, and how university support can be highlighted to students who may be from a widening participation background.
During my first year at the University of Manchester, I received an email which explained that I was eligible for, and had been successfully awarded, the Manchester Bursary. I was so confused that I would receive a cash bursary that I hadn’t even applied for. When filling in my UCAS form, I had opted to share details of my household income with universities and was automatically considered for the Manchester Bursary – unbeknownst to me! This highlights the importance of ensuring students and parents opt-in to share household income information with universities through UCAS – a fact that I was never made aware of. I received a non-repayable cash bursary of £2,000 in each year of my course which made such a huge difference to my overall university experience. I was able to use the bursary to cover some of my living costs which allowed me to spend more time getting involved in university societies and extra-curricular activities, enriching my university experience and allowing me to develop transferable skills which I could utilise in a graduate role or postgraduate study. This highlights the long-standing impact that additional financial support can have on a student’s life. You can find out more about Manchester bursaries and scholarships here and similar bursaries are available at other universities too.
The DASS (Disability Advisory and Support Service) is a service provided by the University of Manchester to support their disabled students. Although I had heard of the DASS during my undergraduate studies, I didn’t think about accessing support. This was partially due to a lack of understanding that I could consider myself a disabled student. Moreover, I was fearful that disclosing my disability would involve many members of staff knowing and treating me differently as a result. The DASS is actually incredibly transparent about the scope and details of disclosure, and they explicitly ask for your consent before disclosing your disability to relevant members of staff. Whilst undertaking postgraduate study, I decided to access support through DASS on the basis of a friend’s recommendation. I also felt more empowered to disclose my disability as I had grown in confidence during my time as an undergraduate. The DASS were incredibly helpful and I found registering and formulating a ‘University Support Plan’ relatively easy. This raises the important role of teachers and advisors in reassuring and empowering students to disclose a disability so that they can access the right support for them. A ‘University Support Plan’ can include exam support (e.g. extra time or quieter exam rooms), library support (e.g. extended returns), as well as academic support, such as alternative course materials, access to podcasts and extended deadlines for assignments. Accessing this kind of support can ease anxiety and stress, allowing students that disclose a disability to better manage both their disability and the heavy, and often pressurised, workload associated with university study. You can find out more about the DASS here. Similar services are also available at other universities.
Related to this, my lack of confidence during my undergraduate degree also meant I didn’t actively seek out the support of my academic advisor or course tutors. Although there is an emphasis on independent study at university, it’s really important to highlight that students are still being taught a subject by world-leading experts. In my experience, there is often an attitude among many students that they shouldn’t seek academic support or advice because then they have failed to “do it on their own”. This is a damaging way to view university study and I think it’s incredibly easy, especially as a student with less confidence, to try and struggle through things alone. My experience highlights the importance of students seeking support, asking questions and getting queries clarified. Not only does this allow students to realise their full academic potential by mastering their subject, it also allows them to feel like an important part of the university community by forming strong relationships with teaching staff. I found that my university experience was at its peak when I was chatting to academic staff. Being continually challenged intellectually further enhanced my passion for my subject and lively discussions contributed to my growing confidence and sense of wellbeing. Therefore, ensuring that students are aware that they can, and should, actively seek academic advice and feedback wherever possible is really important. You can find out more about study support for students at Manchester here.
My own worries, thoughts and experiences, I imagine, are very similar to those of many other prospective students looking to enter HE. I have highlighted here just three of the ways that my university experience was enhanced – through additional financial support, disability support and academic support. I wanted to highlight how much of an impact this has had not only on my life as a student, but my life after study too.
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