St Mary’s University, Twickenham took home the Outstanding Support for Students trophy at the eighteenth annual THE Awards, with judges recognising the University’s ‘sincere and well‑considered approach’ to supporting the complex needs of its students.
St Mary’s Vice-Chancellor, Anthony McClaran commented:
“We are delighted St Mary’s has been recognised for its outstanding student support for those who have been in care. I’d like to extend my congratulations to our staff, who work tirelessly to ensure our students have a supportive, well-rounded and inspiring experience at this University. I would also like to thank our students, whose openness, honesty and willingness to work with us has made St Mary’s the strong community it is today.
From its founding in 1850 by the Catholic Poor Schools Committee, St Mary’s has been built on a strong foundation of excellence, generosity and respect. Our teams continue this legacy by ensuring those who are in most need receive the most support; a place where all are welcomed.
This THE Award is in addition to our recent placement within the top ten for student experience and in the top five for teaching quality in the recent Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023. This is further evidence that the support we provide our students – both academic and pastoral – is a catalyst for helping young people thrive.”
The THE Awards – widely referred to as the ‘Oscars of higher education’ – are the biggest celebration in the higher education calendar, attracting hundreds of entries from individuals, teams, and institutions from UK and Ireland. St Mary’s remarkable achievement this year was reaching the final shortlist in both the Widening Participation and Student Support categories.
The University won the Outstanding Support for Students Award for ‘St Mary’s Cares’, which is a holistic package of financial, practical, and social support for students who have lived in the local authority care system. It is designed, delivered and evaluated by the University’s Widening Participation and Student Services teams.
The transition to university can be difficult for any student, but for those coming from care situations or those estranged from family, the complications can be particularly acute.
In response to wide-ranging consultation, sector research and direct student feedback on this issue, St Mary’s University, Twickenham launched ‘St Mary’s Cares’, a support package with a comprehensive range of assistance for looked-after and estranged students.
A small selection of the help on offer includes the provision of support from a single ‘named contact’ from the summer before students’ entry; links to well-being, financial and mental health services; free entry to students’ union events; an accommodation welcome pack; and a Christmas Day lunch.
There is also tacit understanding that financial support is often key for potentially vulnerable students, so the pack includes £3,000 for each year of undergraduate study, the waiving of graduation ceremony costs, a £1,000 graduation award to aid the transition to employment, long-term IT loan schemes, plus extra funding if needed for summer living and other potential times of hardship.
The judges said: “We were impressed by ‘St Mary’s Cares’ and its comprehensive package of support, starting with a single named contact offering help from before entry.
“All possible support needs, from financial to pastoral, were covered in a genuine attempt to support care-experienced students and those estranged from their families.
“The scale of the scheme was especially impressive given St Mary’s relatively small total student population, indicating a sincere and well‑considered approach to supporting the complex needs of this sometimes-overlooked student group.”
THE editor, John Gill, added:
“Two and a half years after the Covid crisis hit, it is easy to forget or to take for granted the exceptional challenge that it posed to universities.
Not only was the world looking to our scientists and research teams to find a way out of the pandemic, universities were also being asked to continue to teach and nurture cohorts of students who, like all of us, had seen their lives and plans turned upside down.
The Times Higher Education Awards have, for almost two decades, tracked the exceptional achievements of our universities – surely these islands' greatest asset.
This year, the shortlists and winners reflect a particular moment in time, the 2020/21 academic year, when universities were coming to terms with and continuing to respond to the changed circumstances imposed by the pandemic.
As such, it is inevitable that those heroic efforts related to the Covid crisis are represented, but what is perhaps more striking is how rich and diverse the entries to this year’s awards were, how focused on the core missions of universities to deliver world-changing research, life-changing teaching, and all the other ways in which they engage and support communities, regions and the country.
There is little sense in this year’s submissions, and particularly among the winners, of universities struggling through such exceptional times.
Instead, the picture that is painted is of a sector that has risen to the occasion with skill and confidence, and refused to be pushed off course.”