A social enterprise start-up is hoping to help fill the gaps in support for postgraduate education in the UK.
The London-based firm StudentFunder is an online “crowdfunding” platform designed to help students who fail to secure scholarships, family backing or career development loans to find an alternative means of funding.
Following in the footsteps of business and arts crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter, potential students can use StudentFunder to raise the cash they need to pay tuition fees and maintenance.
Many students who struggle to cover their postgraduate costs are already going online to raise money. The platform hopes to improve their prospects by providing mentoring and guidance while reassuring donors through its process of direct payment to universities.
Under the system, students raise money first through pledges from family, friends, potential employers and university alumni, offering rewards or “perks” for donations that can range from thank-you cards to bespoke research projects.
Once a student has raised about 30 per cent of their target, the company approaches their university to see if it can match the total.
A third stage, which got under way recently, allows the company to act as a loan broker, permitting institutions, friends and family to provide peer-to-peer loans to students via the platform at below-market rates.
From its inception in November last year, StudentFunder said it had had an average of three applications a day.
Three students have already reached their targets, including Charles Gimba Magha. Midway through his doctorate at Coventry University’s Centre for Peace Studies and Reconciliation on the links between mining and conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he has now raised £10,400 to help complete his studies.
Juan Guerra, StudentFunder’s founder and chief executive, who financed his own degree through donations, said he wanted the site to become “a one-stop shop for education funding”.
Lamenting the difficulty students experienced in getting conventional loans, he added: “Unfortunately we live in a culture that is averse to loans, but they are not a bad thing – bad loans are a bad thing.”
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ group of post-1992 universities, said that “imaginative solutions” to postgraduate funding were “badly needed”.
But she added that the coalition government “should also be doing much more to encourage banks to take a much more innovative approach to career development loans than they have done to date”.