Improving accessibility of financial support

Background

University Centre South Essex is using Blackbullion to centralise the financial support process and provide applicants with an accessible, online experience.

Location

Essex, England

Capacity

750

Funding

Multiple

Team size

1 (+6)

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.

The challenge

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.”

Rachael Glover Undergraduate Support Advisor
University College South Essex

The objectives

  • 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

The solution

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. 

It wasn’t long until UCSE adopted both the Financial Wellbeing Platform and Funds Management System (FMS), recognising that the two solutions would help them achieve their objectives.

The impact

4

funds managed through Blackbullion

£80k

of funds processed since October 2020

45%

of the student population engaged with Blackbullion (approx)

82%

of students surveyed found Blackbullion learning informative

98%

of students satisfied with how much they were awarded through the FMS

85%

of students say the award has reduced the risk of them leaving their course

“The HE support team have been wonderful in the first few weeks of my degree. I had no idea I would be eligible for as much help and assistance as I have had. I have also had financial assistance from the college and Blackbullion and this has made my life so much easier.”

Student feedback

A centralised process for improved organisation and management

For Rachael, the real standout benefit of using the 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 FMS. Rachael cites the ability to assign statuses to applications, and filter according to these, as a particularly powerful tool.

“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.”

Rachael Glover Undergraduate Support Advisor
University Centre South Essex

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.”

Rachael Glover Undergraduate Support Advisor
University College South Essex

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 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.”

Rachael Glover Undergraduate Support Advisor
University College South Essex

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 Blackbullion 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.”

Rachael Glover Undergraduate Support Advisor
University College South Essex

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University info

Background

University Centre South Essex is using Blackbullion to centralise the financial support process and provide applicants with an accessible, online experience.

Location

Essex, England

Capacity

750

Funding

Multiple

Team size

1 (+6)