Rachael Glover is an Undergraduate Support Advisor at University Centre South Essex (UCSE). Rachael joined the University Centre at the start of the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020 and began her role remotely. Upon joining, one of her tasks was to review UCSE’s hardship application process, check that it was up to date with current guidelines and fit for purpose.
It quickly became apparent that UCSE was receiving an increased number of applications due to the financial impact of COVID-19 on students.
The challenge was that the current application system was mainly paper based with students physically handing in their paperwork to support staff. The process was time consuming for both students and staff and relied on someone being available on campus to pick up paperwork. Now that this was no longer possible, students were emailing documents instead.
But the bombardment of information from students to Rachael’s inbox was proving difficult to manage. Another concern was that if Rachael were to be off work, no one else would be able to pick up where she had left off. The centre needed a centralised process, accessible for every student.
“The system we had wasn’t as easy to adapt as we needed it to be. We needed something that better met the needs of both staff and students.”
- Standardise the funding application process, making sure that all information is contained in one secure, central place
- Provide students with an accessible online application process
- Equip students with not only emergency funding, but also the financial skills and confidence to feel more in control of their money
Rachael looked to NASMA (the National Association of Student Money Advisers) to see how other organisations were managing their funding application process and discovered Blackbullion.
Solutions in use
funds managed through Blackbullion
of funds processed since October 2020
of the student population engaged with Blackbullion (approx)
“It’s just so nice to have one platform that does everything. We’ve got four different funds in the Blackbullion funds management system now and to be able to administer those in such an easy way has been huge. It’s made a massive difference.”
A centralised process for improved organisation and management
For Rachael, the real standout benefit of using the Blackbullion funds management system has been the ability to organise everything in one central place, particularly with the influx of applications the centre is receiving as a result of the government’s additional hardship funding.
Due to this additional funding, UCSE has given out more money in the last 5 months than ever before, which has created a lot of additional work for Rachael. Having one secure, online place where all information is stored in an organised way has proved invaluable.
UCSE now manages four different funds in the Blackbullion funds management system. Rachael cites the ability to assign statuses to applications, and filter according to these, as a particularly powerful tool.
“The ability to categorise applications by setting a status has been exactly what I’ve needed. It’s so easy to request follow-up evidence from a student if I need to and then I can mark that on the application, so I know there’s nothing further for me to action until I get that further information. Being able to distinguish those from others that are ready for a decision is perfect.”
Accessibility for students
An important concern for the University Centre in shifting the funding application process online was that it must be accessible for each and every student. This priority is shared by Blackbullion with inclusivity and accessibility at the heart of the platform.
This has not gone unnoticed with UCSE’s students in the feedback survey sent after a student has applied for funding and received an award. Almost every student has rated the Blackbullion online application form as ‘easy to complete’ and reported that finding the information on Blackbullion is either ‘easy’ or ‘very easy’.
“Blackbullion is a fantastic tool. The student response has been that Blackbullion is really accessible and they find the learning very useful.”
Greater support for students
Prior to having Blackbullion, the University Centre was running in-person budgeting workshops for students. When COVID-19 hit, they found it difficult to adapt these online and also noticed that students’ weren’t really engaging when there were set times for these workshops. Providing students with access to the learning in Blackbullion’s financial wellbeing platform means that they can dip in and out of the resources when it suits them.
As UCSE is using both the financial wellbeing platform and the funds management system, they are able to take an integrated approach to supporting students in financial hardship. As well as provide the funds for those in need, they can also direct students to relevant learning pathways to develop their financial skills and confidence.
“Being able to provide students with financial learning as an integral part of the application process for our main hardship fund has been so useful and so accessible for the students. I feel like we are being responsible with the fund by giving the student not just the money, but also the tools to be able to manage their money better.”
Plans for the future
The University Centre have plans for a long-term partnership with Blackbullion, with the funds management system now integral to their funds management process.
The goal for the next academic year is to do even more of what they’re already doing and spread the word about the financial wellbeing platform wider within the student body. They recognise that the financial education in the platform could be beneficial to not only those in financial hardship but each and every student.
With this in mind, signposting to the platform from the beginning of the next academic year means that financial learning can be embedded from the very start of the student journey. The message will be loud and clear: sign up to Blackbullion, create your free account and off you go towards a money smarter future!
“We’re a university centre within a college, so our experience is quite different to big universities who have lots of residential students but for what we needed at that moment in time, Blackbullion has been just brilliant and ticked every box.”