A golden opportunity?

One of the things I like about working in PR (apart from that I get to say that), is that it means I have to read the papers pretty much every day. This is something I do anyway, and really enjoy – and today something caught my eye. Sadly, not in a good way.

While flipping through the Western Mail today a headline about Cardiff University caught my attention. ‘Ah, my alma mater’, I thought to myself. But as I read on, my initial rose-tinted nostalgia bubble burst. Big time.

The story talks about a scholarship Cardiff are offering one lucky student – free tuition for a year. This got my back up a little bit straight away – a University education isn’t a gimmick, a Wonka-style ‘golden ticket’ as the article calls it. It’s a serious and important investment – a huge, defining chapter of a student’s academic, professional and emotional development. It’s not a game show.

Sorry, Bruce: not a game show.

I wanted to give it a fair chance, though, and read on. The fact that applicants ‘will have to undergo a series of academic tasks designed to find the most “exceptional” learner’ redressed the imbalance somewhat. I’m a firm believer in rewarding based on merit: if you are good, if you are hardworking and clever and deserving, then you should be rewarded. (A belief that forms the sole basis of my dislike of the ‘stars’ of  The Only Way Is Essex.) It may seem a bit gimmicky, a point addressed in the article, but at the end of the day one truly exceptional candidate will benefit. There’s a trial element – it’s not pot luck. And isn’t that what would happen in any grad scheme application anyway? After rounds of testing, one person effectively ‘wins’.

But I got home and wanted to do a little more digging – see just what these ‘academic tasks’ involved. A friend of mine actually works for the Uni, and had been promoting the project on his Facebook.

So I clicked. And reading the website itself – my initial outrage returned!

The website says:

‘Win free tuition… for life.

Applying to Cardiff? Complete the challenges and you could learn for free, forever.

Sign up now for the first clue’

There are many things wrong with this, in my eyes, but I’m not here to talk about the missing final full-stop.

 ‘Sign up now for the first clue’?? Boom – we’re back in gameshow territory. Okay, it might just be how they’re marketing it. It may well be a thorough test, with noble intentions, purest heart. But please. This is not a treasure hunt. This is University education! With the ridiculous fees potential students are now facing, scholarships and awards like this could genuinely be some people’s only chance of going to Uni. Of fulfilling the potential their A-Levels tell them is there, of getting a chance to take hold of a future they academically deserve. Should we really be devaluing that like this?

I’m all for grants, schemes, bursaries. Especially when, facing a £27,000 price tag, some potentially brilliant people are just never going to be able to even consider university. God knows I could have used some financial support. But I really, really don’t think this is the way to go about it.

I’d be interested to see how the ‘Thrive’ programme unfolds – and what you guys think about it. Gimmick or golden ticket?

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