A magnet for high achievers

November 7, 2003

Scholarships engender a sense of pride in the institutions that create them, argues Terry Butland

Scholarships have played an important role in British higher education for a long time. They recognise achievement and help persuade high achievers to choose a particular university or college.

Universities such as Middlesex are relatively new to scholarships. But we have learnt lessons from other universities.

From September 2004, every full-time UK undergraduate entering Middlesex University with 300 or more Universities and Colleges Admissions Service tariff points will receive £1,000 for each year of study. That's worth up to £5,000, depending on a student's area of interest.

We have resisted the temptation to make lots of rules. We don't fund a placement year, and teachers and nurses aren't eligible because they have other awards. But the simple message is that Middlesex will give you £1,000 a year if you come to us with three Bs at A level or the equivalent.

We are calling them achievement scholarships, and they complement our other scholarships - chancellor's scholarships and regional directors'

scholarships, the last for overseas (non-European Union) students.

Middlesex's achievement scholarships are attracting attention, mostly from our partners in London schools and colleges. Some doors that, quite frankly, seemed closed to us have been opened. A good deal of attention is coming from the press, which sees, quite rightly, larger issues and questions at stake than a generous Middlesex .

Why are we doing it?

Of course we want to attract attention in a competitive higher education market. Like every other university, we want the attention of students who may not traditionally have considered us. Middlesex has always had high A-level achievers, but not enough. Most of our students are mature. More than 20 per cent come from outside the UK. So of course the majority don't come to Middlesex with a traditional British A-level background. If we want to live up to our vision - of diversity and comprehensiveness, of a place where people from all backgrounds learn together - we should aim for balance and make extra efforts to gain the attention of those who may not have heard of us.

And with ten years of success as a university - 30 bearing the Middlesex name - behind us, why should we not expect the very best? Our teaching quality is excellent, as recently confirmed by the new-style 2003 Quality Assurance Agency institutional review. Our research credentials show a steeply rising trend. The partnerships we forge - with professional bodies and leading international universities - add significantly to the student experience.

Our scholarships journey so far has been exciting. We launched our chancellor's scholarships in 1999 with a relatively modest but sustained investment, which grew when vice-chancellor Michael Driscoll ran the London Marathon to raise funds. In four years, about £250,000 has been given to more than 200 scholars.

We expected the chancellor's scholarships (which reward academic, sporting, cultural or community achievement) to be popular because of the cash awards. We expected to be impressed - and we were: a disabled young refugee who had made a success of his studies and was busy helping others in the community; a harpist playing for charity.

What surprised us was the shared pride that both the university and its scholars now feel. Within months, a scholars' networking group had been formed. Scholarship ceremonies, where personal stories of success are shared, have become popular.

And, of course, these scholars enhance our reputation. This benefits all our students and alumni. That is what excellence does.

When the first achievement scholars arrive in September 2004, we want them to feel special too, and to be happy with the decision they have made. I am sure they will enhance the reputation of the university, to the benefit of all its members and graduates.

Terry Butland is deputy vice-chancellor of Middlesex University.

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