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Catholic charity to help young Scots go to university

Students who might struggle financially are offered help to ‘fulfil their dreams’ by the SSVP — By Peter Diamond and Ryan McDougall

An initiative launched to help pupils at Glasgow’s Catholic schools hoping to go to university will begin next academic year.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SSVP) is to offer grants of £1,500 a year to pupils struggling financially through its newly created Frederic Ozanam Scholarship.

The scholarship aims to help senior pupils who are struggling financially to go to university, and covers four years of higher education, meaning the total grant is £6,000 for each pupil that qualifies for the scholarship.

£700 will be paid at the start of the academic year, £400 in the second semester and a further £400 in the third. It is hoped it will encourage students with money troubles to pursue their dreams.

The initiative follows a pilot that launched last year across four Catholic secondary schools in Glasgow Archdiocese.

The pilot project is currently providing funds to seven pupils.

 

Lasting contribution

Following the successful pilot, the SSVP hopes to fund pupils across a total of 12 secondary schools in the archdiocese in the 2020-2021 academic year.

Jim O’Hagan, vice president of the SSVP Glasgow branch said: “[The Frederic Ozanam Scholarship] was established to coincide with the centenary of publically funded Catholic education in Scotland. We wanted to make a lasting contribution to the celebrations.

“It was a past president who came up with the initial idea and then a few of us developed it further.”

The SSVP has had around 20 applications for the 2020-21 scholarship. Successful applications are chosen based on a number of factors, including their personal statement.

 

Deadline

The deadline was officially on October 31, though the SSVP believes it will receive a few late applications. Applicants will find out whether they will receive the funding in January.

The number of students the scheme will be able to fund in the 2020 academic year is currently unconfirmed, though Mr O’Hagan said it is ‘likely’ to be eight.

While applicants have to be pupils at Catholic schools, they themselves do not have to be Catholic.

Mr O’Hagan said: “We want to raise the profile of SSVP among young people, although some people would cringe at me saying that because blowing your own trumpet is not a very Vincentian thing to do.”

SSVP Glasgow is hopeful that other branches in Scottish dioceses will also take on the initiative, but Mr O’Hagan explained the charity will need more funds to do so.

 

Funding

He added: “We constantly need more money and we are certainly not a charity that operates with vast amounts of wealth.”

St Peter the Apostle’s High School in Clydebank is one of the schools on board with the initiative.

Headteacher Linda Booth said they are ‘delighted to be involved with the project.’ The school has strong links with the SSVP, as many of its young people volunteer with the charity, despite some of them having their own financial problems.

Mrs Booth added: “We serve a community which experiences high levels of deprivation but we remain hugely aspirational for our young people, particularly in terms of supporting them to access higher education.

“Every year more than half our young people go on to university from school. Financial support is one area where as a school community we can’t support young people directly, so this scholarship would definitely help reduce this barrier.”

 

Praise

The initiative has received widespread praise from the Church and educational organisations in Scotland.

Barbara Coupar, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service (SCES), said: “The beginnings of university are generally the most expensive during that transitional period when people have to fork out for laptops, books and pay for travel.

“I think what SSVP is doing is identifying something that’s a really practical need. For us, it’s a really popular aspect because it’s done in collaboration with Catholic schools.

“So far, the universities have been very helpful—they are on board with the processes required to keep this fund going year on year. Every term they will send SSVP confirmation of the students’ enrolment.”

 

Progressive policies

Mrs Coupar said the scholarship is evident of Church agencies ‘implementing progressive policies, which is perhaps not always realised by wider society and that the money that goes in the box at the back of Mass is being well-spent in our communities.’

She added: “This is a scholarship which takes us back to our roots and will hopefully help the people who need it most. It could really be the difference between a generation being the first in a family going to university or not.”

Anthony Horan of the Catholic Parliamentary office of Scotland has also endorsed the scholarship. He said: “The Frederic Ozanam Scholarship is a fantastic opportunity for young people experiencing financial hardship to further their education and build their future.

“The Society of St Vincent de Paul has shown great innovation with this project and it continues to serve the needs of some of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.”

The Scottish Government also endorsed the scholarship. A spokesperson said: “We welcome any additional investment designed to encourage students to pursue higher education.”

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