Crowdsourcing to fund studies

It is becoming more common to ask members of the public to pay your fees, but is it acceptable?

August 7, 2014

The story of a University of Oxford graduate who has crowdfunded her way to a master’s at the institution’s Wadham College has certainly divided opinion in the past few weeks.

Emily-Rose Eastop, an “aspiring scientist, singer and hula-hoop dancer”, had been accepted to do the one-year course in cognitive and evolutionary anthropology but said she did not have enough money to meet the £11,250 in tuition fees, £2,765 in college fees and £11,343 living expenses she estimated she would need.

So she took to crowdsourcing website Hubbub, where members of the public can attempt to raise cash for their projects, and other members of the public can make donations.

“Unfortunately, I have no money, and have been unable to secure any grant,” she wrote on her fundraising page, titled “Get ’ER to Oxford”. “Funding opportunities for graduates are extremely limited these days. I don’t feel I can borrow any more money – I’m already over £20K in debt from my undergraduate degree,” she added.

Whether it was the pleading YouTube video that accompanied the call for funds or the persuasive blurb that sits on her crowdfunding page (“I am so excited by the prospect of doing this degree, and if enough people were to give a little something, I might actually be able to”), the approach worked. As of 31 July, around 500 people had clubbed together to send more than £26,000 Ms Eastop’s way – and she can now take up the Wadham offer.

Her decision to crowdfund for her master’s attracted plenty of criticism. She was labelled a “posh brat” in one online comment, and others questioned why she had not been working and saving money for her course since graduating from Magdalen College with a 2:1 in human sciences in 2010.

But she is not alone in her approach in what is a growing trend. Cosima Gretton, a graduate medical student who won a place on a highly selective 10-week learning programme at the Nasa Research Park in California, also sought crowdfunding for her studies. The course, run by the unaccredited US institution Singularity University, was too pricey for Ms Gretton, so she set up a page on crowdfunder.co.uk and raised more than £2,000 towards tuition.

Ms Gretton had won her place on the programme as part of the team behind Skin Analytics – a mobile app that helps people to assess moles on their skin for potential UV damage, and which aims to improve the care of chronic wounds. “I am passionate about changing healthcare on global scale to provide more people with better care at a lower cost,” she says in the pitch on her fundraising page.

Many universities in the US also have their own platforms to encourage students and academics to appeal for financial help for their projects, and it is becoming more commonplace in the UK.

The universities of York, Southampton and the West of England are among those with active crowdfunding sites.

Projects up for funding include student bands wishing to record their first album, theatre groups hoping to take their show on tour and a graphic design student raising funds to buy new underwear for homeless people.

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to chris.parr@tsleducation.com

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