From tackling student poverty, to giving students the opportunity to pursue career paths they’d never dreamed of, QUT’s award-winning Learning Potential Fund has been making a tangible difference to students’ lives for 20 years.
Since 1998, the ground-breaking equity scholarship scheme has awarded scholarships and bursaries to support more than 15,000 students.
QUT’s Equity Director, Mary Kelly, has been there from the very beginning and played an integral role in its inception.
“The recruitment and retention of low-income students was a core issue for the university but we weren’t making much progress at the time,” Ms Kelly said.
“In discussions with the (then) Vice-Chancellor, it was clear that student poverty was the barrier especially for retention – students would drop out because of financial hardship,” she said.
As a result, the Equity Endowment Fund was established, later becoming the Learning Potential Fund in 2005.
In its first year, six bursaries of $500 each were awarded to students.
Last year, 2,100 Learning Potential Fund scholarships totalling over $5 million were awarded to students.
Now, more students are completing their studies, with trends showing that those students awarded scholarships have a higher chance of completing their degree.
“The majority of students say their scholarship made the difference between staying at university or leaving,” Ms Kelly said.
“The scholarships have two effects; firstly, it’s practical. It means students can afford education costs and living costs. It makes life less complicated,” she said.
“Secondly, they have a psychological effect; students say they feel special and are grateful that they’ve been chosen. It enhances their sense of belonging and motivates them.
“It really does have a ripple effect on a family and on society.”
Sanchito Banerjee is a former student who has contributed to this ripple effect.
After completing his undergraduate degree in Aerospace Avionics Sanchito has gone on complete his PhD and work for the likes of Boeing and now lives in Germany working for Airbus.
Born in Kanpur, India, Sanchito said his strong desire to further his education was instilled in him by his parents.
“I saw that education made my parent’s lives significantly easier. My dad is a graduate of one of the most competitive university systems in the world, and my mum pursued a degree in tax while working a full-time job,” he said.
Sanchito was awarded a Learning Potential Fund scholarship in 2009 and said this helped set him up for what was to be the most valuable six months of his career.
“In 2010 I was given the chance to go on exchange to a university in Germany for over a year. This is really where the fund helped me to sort out and plan my finances.”
Sanchito was given an exciting opportunity to intern with European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS) Astrium in Friedrichschafen, Germany.
“I see 2010 as the key to the progress that I have made so far. And the enabling factor was the Learning Potential Fund scholarship,” he said.
“Having a scholarship like the LPF meant there were fewer factors that could negatively affect the time that I needed to commit to my studies.”
Sanchito echoes Mary Kelly’s sentiments around how equity scholarships are tackling student poverty, giving them the chance to impact those around them.
“Students who come from a hard background, get the opportunity to get a great education and then start contributing to society,” he said.
“Sharing their own successes with others sets off a chain of events that helps the next generation of students succeed.”
Also passionate about tackling student poverty and giving students from all backgrounds the means to realise their potential is QUT’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Margaret Sheil.
After taking up the position in 2018, the Vice-Chancellor has placed a high importance on seeing the Learning Potential Fund reach its goal of $100 million.
“I’m extremely proud of QUT’s strong culture of philanthropy, and I’m invested in seeing this success continue,” she said.
“The fund is the driving force behind the largest staff-giving program in the university sector.
“It is the only fund of its scale in Australia that is perpetual, and among the largest in terms of the dollar value of needs-based scholarships awarded each year.”
You can help more students like Sanchito, by making a gift to the Learning Potential Fund online https://alumni-and-friends.qut.edu.au/giving-to-learning-potential-fund