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Model student support schemes deserve a star turn

Outstanding Student Financial Support Package

Universities offer prospective students a bewildering range of bursaries and scholarships to help pay for tuition fees and living costs, writes Tony Tysome.

Institutions that believe they provide something that stands out in the crowded market and helps the poorest students may wish to bid for a new award from The Times Higher : the Outstanding Student Financial Support Package, backed by the Office for Fair Access.

A panel of judges, including Sir Martin Harris, director of Offa, will be looking for carefully targeted packages aimed at supporting students from underrepresented groups in higher education.

The monetary value of the package entered for the award will be less important than evidence of creative thinking and of an imaginative approach to why a scheme will make a difference to students from these groups.

Judges will also look for innovative ways in which institutions have chosen to contact target groups and will wish to see how they plan to monitor the impact of their financial packages.

Sir Martin said: "What we will be looking for is not simply the most generous scheme, but institutions that have put a lot of thought into targeting students from underrepresented groups either nationally or in their regional and local catchment areas."

Institutions with the best packages will give themselves a significant edge in the student recruitment market, Sir Martin added.

"When it is a close decision, the support package on offer could well be the decisive factor for a prospective student," he said.

Outstanding Support for Overseas Students

Competition is tougher than ever in the multibillion-pound international student market.

Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that the number of overseas students enrolled on courses in the UK rose by 6.1 per cent in 2004-05.

But the latest statistics from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service present a less rosy picture, showing a 4.3 per cent drop in the number of applications from abroad for this year.

Under such circumstances, many UK institutions are aiming to protect their position in the market by showing that they provide a world-class level of support for international students.

The Times Higher' s award for Outstanding Support for Overseas Students is aimed at universities leading the way in this competitive environment.

Colin Matheson, director of Westminster University's international students' scholarship scheme, which won the award last year, said: "Of all the awards, this one is perhaps the most commercially useful to an institution."

He added: "Winning it has been a huge morale booster for our department."

The award demonstrated institutions' commitment to supporting overseas students, he said.

Jim Wilson, international student adviser at Strathclyde University, who was a commended runner-up for the award, said: "I was pleased to be commended on behalf of all those people who put a lot of work into supporting international students."

The award will go to the entry considered to be the best and most innovative example of support for international students.

A panel of judges representing the British Council; Ukcosa, the council for international education, and the National Union of Students will help to choose the winner.

Apply: www.thes.co.uk/awards

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