The gift of an Edinburgh education
Making a world-class education a reality for the UK’s brightest students is a priority for the University of Edinburgh.
This year’s O’Shea Global Scholars Initiative – inspired by Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea’s work to increase access to an Edinburgh education – saw the University launch new enhanced undergraduate scholarships to allow the most disadvantaged students in Scotland and the rest of the UK the chance to study and thrive here.
The University has always sought to attract the brightest and the best, regardless of a student’s personal circumstances. Now, thanks to the encouraging support from our alumni and friends, the Initiative is building on Edinburgh’s extensive scholarship programmes and opening opportunities to even more students who never thought university was an option for them.
Edinburgh already provides one of the best scholarship programmes for undergraduate students from Scotland, but for the most disadvantaged students we know more can be done. Enhanced undergraduate scholarships means the University is able to place special emphasis on those wanting to study at the University who are from the 20% most deprived communities in Scotland according to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation and those with the lowest family income in the UK.
From this academic year, Scotland-domiciled students who qualify for enhanced undergraduate scholarships will receive 50% more than in previous years thanks to donor support.
Meanwhile, scholarships for students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland will also increase, making them the most comprehensive of their type in the UK.
One student who knows all about the opportunities at the heart of a scholarship is History undergraduate Carmen Hesketh, who has been receiving financial support since she began her studies in 2016. We spent time with Carmen and discovered the difference funding has made to her life.
Carmen, let’s begin with a little background. You grew up just outside Glasgow, but what made you choose the University of Edinburgh?
Well Edinburgh has so much for a lover of history. One day, on a visit, I found myself in one of the University’s old anatomy lecture theatres and I knew I wanted to study here. It was how I’d always dreamed university would be like. So I worked hard at school, got the offer, got the grades – and thanks to my scholarship, here I am.
Why did you choose your particular degree programme?
It all began with a great History teacher. This particular teacher retrained in her 30s – after she’d had three children. I really admired her drive. She reminded me of my own mum. Learning about the suffragettes made me want to teach too, and to use history as a model for how we might live now.
Have your family or friends studied at university before?
Just my mum, really. It’s not common for people from my town to go on to university. The few that do tend to study closer to home as it’s so expensive to move out.
How are you enjoying your time in Edinburgh?
I’m loving it, and I’m keeping really busy. I’m now the History Society’s Trip Officer – we had a trip to Lisbon recently – and I have a part-time job at a local museum. I also volunteer at the Lothian Health Service Archives. We are transferring records onto a database so that people are better able to research their family history.
What are your favourite memories of your time at the University so far?
Visiting Pena Palace in Sintra, near Lisbon, was fantastic. I also visited Berlin. There I was, with flatmates from Australia and California. A year ago I wouldn’t have even believed that was possible. That’s another thing I love about university life – you meet people from all over the world.
How important has Edinburgh’s scholarship provision been to you and your studies?
That’s easy. It’s made everything possible. It has taken the financial pressure off. I can now concentrate on my studies without working long hours or worrying about debt. With mum on a zero-hours contract, the money simply wasn’t there for me to come here. She is so proud of me.
What have you used the scholarship money for? Any examples?
Rent, food and bills are the main vital outgoings that my scholarship money pays for. But it also gives me to freedom to pursue meaningful experiences by freeing up the pre-university wages I’d saved up. I was able to attend the History Ball. I wouldn’t have been there otherwise. And it also made Berlin possible.
What’s next? What do you plan to do after graduation?
Originally I’d planned to go into teaching. Presenting to school kids at the museum has given me a flavour of that. But the job at the Archives has turned my head. I could see myself being really happy working in cultural heritage.
Is there anything you’d like to say to donors who support scholarships like yours?
That’s another easy question. I would thank you for making my life ten times better than it was previously. I study at a world-renowned institution and when I leave here I’ll leave with loads of amazing experiences and memories. Then I’ll hopefully move on to a great career doing something I’m passionate about. I’d also say thanks for making it possible to prioritise my learning and not have to worry so much about finances.
What would you say to anyone thinking about supporting scholarships?
I would say that their generosity will literally change lives. I’ve met and made friends with people from backgrounds totally different to my own – worlds apart from what I know. I wouldn’t have had that chance without generous scholarship funding.
The University has a team of students who regularly telephone our alumni to tell them about developments on campus and offer opportunities to support scholarships and projects. Abel Villa, who is completing a PhD in Science, Technology and Innovation studies, explains what it’s like to be part of the student calling team.
“I love Edinburgh – the city and the University. It’s a very peaceful place full of friendly people. It’s a fair trade city, too, which is important to me, and I feel you can breathe the air of freedom here.
I decided to apply to be a student caller because I believe the mission of the University is to expand, educate and create new ways of contributing to society and the world. By helping the University keep in touch with alumni, we are creating a strong network that will support and reinforce efforts to change the world for the better.
I love offering alumni the chance to donate to the University, too. This very basic principle of helping current and future students access a world-class education, while also expanding their horizons, is as much as I, as a student can do for my fellow students.
I had a very inspiring conversation recently with a lady who studied agricultural economics. We discussed organic agriculture, the future of the food chain, and the importance of including small scale farmers into value chains. She inspired me, and I, with a potential to contribute to this effort after I complete my PhD, inspired her. And that conversation would never have taken place had I not made that phone call.”
For more information on supporting scholarships, visit: