Landmark for fund aimed at student support

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A FUND set up to allow graduates to support students at a Yorkshire university has reached a major milestone after receiving its 10,000th donation.

Leeds University’s Footsteps Fund, which has helped to raise more than £3m since it was created eight years ago, took the pledge from a retired solicitor who said he wanted to give something back.

The money raised through the fund will help to provide a new scholarship being launched this year to help some students who join the university through a scheme aimed to support young people in challenging circumstances.

John Priestley, 70, from the Otley area, near Leeds, had no idea he would be helping the university to reach this key target when he agreed to help. He studied law at the university fifty years ago and made the pledge to support current students as he turned 70.

Mr Priestley said: “Young people today have to pay so much in order to get a degree whereas I was able to go to university for free. I just wanted to be able to give a little something back to help the students of today.”

His university education helped Mr Priestley to follow in his father’s footsteps to become a solicitor. Both his sons have since become solicitors as well.

The university’s vice chancellor, Professor Michael Arthur, has written to Mr Priestley to thank him for being the 10,000th person to donate to the fund.

Adrian Salmon, the Footsteps Fund manager, said that the change in tuition fees – which now sees young people charged up to £9,000 a year – has been a factor in more former graduates deciding they wanted to support current students through the fund.

“It was started as the Alumni Annual Fund in 2004 and changed its name a few years ago,” he said.

“It is essentially a way that Leeds graduates can give back to the university to support current and future students to follow in their footsteps – hence the name change to the Footsteps Fund.”

Since it was created the fund has helped to support around 1,400 students at Leeds.

Mr Salmon added: “We offer scholarships to students in challenging financial circumstances to help them to come to Leeds. The Centenary Alumni Scholarship is available to candidates who achieve three As at A-level and come from backgrounds where the family income is less than £40,000 a year.

“We have supported more than 150 students with these scholarships. It has been a £1,000-a-year scholarship but as of August it will increase to £1,500. This will make a real material difference.

“What it will do is to close the gap which exists between the support that is available to students through loans and grants and the actual cost of coming to live in Leeds to do a degree.

“What we say is that we are giving these students around two to three hundred hours of study back. If they were working in a minimum wage job that is what it would take to earn this money.”

The Footsteps Fund is also used to allow the university to top up the support it gives to students facing financial hardship through the Government’s Access to Learning fund.

From the next academic year the Footsteps Fund will also be used to provide a scholarship for some of the students who are accepted into the university through its Access to Leeds scheme.

The aim of this scheme is to support applications from students who have the potential to study at Leeds but face challenging circumstances. It does this by offering slightly easier entry requirements for its courses to eligible students.

In order to qualify for the Access to Leeds programme candidates need to meet at least two of the eligibility criteria, which include: coming from a household with an income of less than £25,000; being the first in their family to apply to higher education; attending a school which achieved less than the national average level of pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths; having had their school studies disrupted by their domestic lives; living in an area with low levels of young people going to university; or having lived in care.

Mr Salmon said: “The Footsteps Fund will provide support of £6,000 over three years to some students which can be received as either a scholarship or as a fee waiver.”