A Digital Era

As the pandemic caused the University to transition to more digitally-focused learning environments, some students – including Marisha – found themselves being left behind because they didn’t have the technology to keep up.

To combat this problem, the University launched the Digital Support Fund, to help the most disadvantaged students participate in online teaching and access resources by providing grants of up to £500.

Entirely donor-funded, these grants helped more than 40 students this term to access the digital resources they needed to fully engage in their studies. From purchasing a laptop to reliable broadband, these grants enable students to buy the essentials while social distancing restrictions remain in place. The University would like to extend its gratitude to everyone who donated to this fund.

CONNECTED speaks to Marisha – a first-year BSc Psychology with Neuroscience student who has returned to education after taking time out to raise her son – to find out what impact her Digital Support grant had on her studies.

Engaging with university

Marisha tells CONNECTED how she was struggling to participate fully in her studies due to working with old technology that couldn’t support the software she needed for her course.

She said: “For the first few weeks of term, I was having to go into campus each day to use a computer in the University Library.

“My course requires me to use a specific system to do statistical analysis and my old, basic chrome book couldn’t even load the software. I was having to regularly book a computer in the Library for the maximum three hour slot.

“But as soon as I received this grant I bought a high-specification laptop. As well as using the money I was given, I was able to get a student discount, some money off by trading in an old broken machine, and I chipped in a little myself to buy something that will last.

“Who would have thought that purchasing a laptop could make such a difference to my university experience – but it really has.

“I only have two hours of face-to-face contact each week at the moment due to COVID-19 restrictions, so it wasn’t the best use of my time to be travelling to and from the Library. I can actually work from home now, watch my pre-recorded lectures in my own time, and join in all the study group work on Microsoft Teams. This grant has enabled me to participate fully in my course and get the most out of my degree.”

Work-life balance

Marisha is a single parent to her three-year-old son. She tells CONNECTED how despite knowing that balancing study and motherhood would be tough, she was passionate about coming to Reading.

She said:

“As a single mum I knew it wasn’t going to be easy studying for a degree, but it’s what I’ve chosen to do. When I had my son, I initially didn’t think I’d be able to carry on in education. But then I thought, why shouldn’t I? I’ve always wanted this, so I decided to go and do it.

“Balancing my study and being a parent is actually working out well – the support I receive is crucial though. I do all my study from 9am-5pm while my son is at the childminder, which is largely covered by my Parent’s Learning Allowance – childcare is so expensive that I just couldn’t do it otherwise.

“When my son is at the childminder, that’s my quiet time for me to concentrate on my studies. After that, I go back into mum mode and make sure I spend quality time with my son.

“Receiving the Digital Support grant has made such a difference to my work-life balance. Working from home enables me to spend more time on my studies and be more flexible with my schedule; a benefit that every parent appreciates.”

A real impact

Marisha is incredibly grateful for the support she has received which has made a real impact on her university experience.

She said: “I’d like to say a huge thank you to the donors who have supported me. A grant like this helps people more than you might think – it has a real impact.

“It’s changed my whole university experience. I’m less stressed, I’m not having to juggle booking computers in the Library, and I can now work from home and fully take part in my learning. It’s just brilliant.

“It’s amazing that people are willing to be so generous and help others. I hope one day I’ll be in a position to give back to future students in similar positions to me.”

Businesses giving back

The Digital Support Fund would never have existed if it wasn’t for the support of Reading’s alumni and supporter community – including two businesses who supported this cause.

Santander Universities kick-started this fund with a generous £25,000 contribution. Simon Poulter, Santander Universities Relationship Manager, said: “We’re delighted to support the University of Reading’s Digital Support Fund, established following the outbreak of COVID-19 to support disadvantaged students.

“This is a fantastic venture and we look forward to continuing to work together to support students with further initiatives over the coming months.”

Veritas Technologies, based in Reading, recently donated 25 second-hand laptops to support students unable to purchase their own laptop to meet their educational needs. Varun Kanjinghat, IT Support Specialist at Veritas, said:

“During these trying times, Veritas is honoured to participate in providing laptop donations which enable students to achieve their learning goals.”

The University and every student who has benefitted from this fund, like Marisha, would like to extend their gratitude to everyone who has supported our students adapt to this increasingly online world we now find ourselves in as a result of the pandemic.

Find out more about the Digital Support Fund through the IMAGINE campaign.