S Squared Insights logo
Blog Post Image

Generosity Gone Awry: Why Universities Miss the Mark with Scholarships


Designing, awarding, and evaluating scholarships and bursaries should be one of the best roles in HE. Whether celebrating and attracting academic success, or addressing social inequalities, Financial Awards (FA) supercharge HE as an engine for good. With annual budgets in the millions, even tens of millions, this is a significant and generous investment. Other sectors make a greater fuss about much less. By balancing the drive for student income with transformational social impact, Financial Awards have the potential to be a win-win for beneficiary and University alike.

So why, with considerable budget and a mission to do good, are so many Financial Award schemes a travesty of their intent?

In place of a beacon of HE’s social impact, we have dismal, dull, disengaging scholarships and bursaries. If you can find them on a university’s website, they may well be incomprehensible. Poorly maintained, bizarrely named, choked with legalese, they are seemingly designed to deter. These schemes are clearly regarded as a burden to be administered begrudgingly. How are first in family, or international students supposed to make sense of indecipherable jargon and overly complex schemes that confuse even HE professionals?

Thankfully, there are some exceptions, a few examples to lead the way. These are Financial Awards schemes designed with the beneficiary in mind as much as the provider. They are promoted with pride and excitement at the potential of this opportunity for student and university alike.

The University of Bristol and its PGT “Think Big” branded FA scheme is one example. Webpages are easy to find, bright and engaging, filled with testimonials and pictures (yes things are so bad I’m celebrating the use of photography). Everything an applicant needs to know is on that page, with one click taking you to more detail or the application form. That single form is used to assess the applicant for all FAs “Multiple Scholarships, One Application.” These pages are a lesson in how to reduce friction while increasing engagement. That engagement is leveraged to building community by referring the applicant to their University of Bristol International Scholarships LinkedIn page. Bravo, Bristol, Bravo.

As HE professionals S Squared Insights recognised both the need for improvement of financial awards and the challenges frustrating that change. We painstakingly developed our Financial Awards database which gives us unmatched perspective and detail on this confused and confusing area. Together with our domain knowledge, this database informs our Financial Awards Audit. This groundbreaking report will help you understand your FA offer relative to competitors and best-practice in the sector.

If you’d like to learn how to diversify your intake, develop new markets, and understand if your FA scheme is compliant, then please get in touch.

Blog Author Image

Dr Julian Westwood

Director (Strategy) at S Squared Insights

Back to all