We take the views of our alums seriously. So, over the past few months, the Sutton Trust has been asking our brilliant alumni community to tell us more about their experiences. In January, we wrote to alumni to ask them about their time at university and in light of the current crisis, we asked alums how the Covid-19 pandemic is impacting them. Their thoughts are feeding into our policy and programmes work, and they are actively shaping what we are offering to alumni over the coming months.
How is Covid-19 impacting our alumni?
Our alumni community helped to give us a quick snapshot of the type of challenges less advantaged students are facing in the current crisis. Many of the alumni who completed our Covid-19 survey told us they are facing financial issues – some of our alumni have lost jobs or had their hours reduced, and almost all anticipate that they will have ongoing financial challenges. Alumni also told us that they have issues in accessing a good space to study.
These first-hand insights shine a light on a number of issues where the Sutton Trust is making policy asks. These asks include ensuring access to technology and online resources for students who need them and trying to protect apprenticeships, as they are one of the best ways for students to access the workplace but are heavily at risk from an economic downturn. We want to ensure that alums and other young people from less advantaged backgrounds are not disproportionately disadvantaged as a result of Covid-19.
Many alumni also felt that the cancellation of face-to-face outreach activities by universities and other providers this year would have a negative impact on the students who would have benefited. Alumni had mixed views on the efficacy of online provision. This is a particularly important finding for us and for other widening participation organisations. As the sector quickly moves to more online delivery, we are going to have to work hard to ensure that we can capture the spirit of our in-person events.
Looking at the wider picture
When we asked alums about the challenges they face at university back in January, we found that one issue was particularly significant – the cost of university. This includes fees, accommodation, and course costs. When coupled with optional extra-curricular costs (which includes activities like socialising, graduation, and student balls which are crucial to student experience and quality of life), this accounted for roughly a third of all answers.
There were three other broad areas that stood out as being particularly important: access to opportunities like work placements, internships, summer schemes, and study abroad opportunities; academic skills, confidence and knowledge, for example study skills, public speaking, and essay writing; and feeling out of place or unwelcome in relation to students from more affluent backgrounds.
As our work with alumni grows, we will be looking to address these challenges. We greatly appreciate all the alums who took the time to share their thoughts with us across these two surveys. Their honest feedback shapes how we support the next generations of alumni.
The Sutton Trust is currently in touch with 3,700 alumni. Our newest alums are finishing their final year of school while our most senior alums occupy leading positions across a range of sectors.