In our latest spotlight feature, we talk to Myles Jardine, Founder of grant and scholarship app, GrantFairy, about irresponsible government policies, why student debt matters and how students can graduate debt free.
Can you tell us a bit about GrantFairy and how it works?
GrantFairy is a mobile app which helps students find grants and scholarship opportunities to fund their university tuition fees and living expenses.
In recent years, UK university tuition fees have risen nine-fold, tripling in 2012 alone. And with the average UK student loan debt predicted to exceed £50,000 this year, university tuition fees and student loans have become a major headache for young graduates.
GrantFairy’s highly targeted scholarship search tools provide instant access to thousands of UK grants and scholarship opportunities, worth tens of millions of pounds every year.
Our personalised search results are based on each individual student’s profile details and their university course selection: just tap in your details and our magical grant fairy will conjure up a personalised list of scholarships for which you are eligible.
What makes it different from other apps out there? Are there any similar apps?
There are other scholarship apps but they mainly deal with the US market. And the ones which do deal with the UK are typically very sparse: I came across one the other day with just four scholarships… what’s the point?
As well as finding grants for current university students, GrantFairy is also ideal for sixth-form college students: we have a comprehensive guide to UK universities and colleges with links to their websites to help students decide where to go and what to study, and you can also change the details in your GrantFairy profile as often as you like, so you can use it to check out funding opportunities at any number of universities.
In addition to that, we help you organise your scholarship applications: the tabbed layout of the app enables you to move scholarships from your WishList to the Applied section or to the Success section, to help you track your progress. We even send you alerts to let you know when application deadlines are approaching too.
Apart from current students, who else might be interested in the app?
Current students and prospective students are eligible to apply for scholarships. Parents may also be interested in the app, as they are often saddled with contributing thousands to top up student loans, and scholarships could help save their family a great deal of money.
Does it work for apprenticeships as well?
Our main focus has been grants and scholarships so far – it’s free money and that’s an easy idea to sell (although many people are sceptical at first).
However, as interest in the app develops and we continue to build relationships with more companies and sponsors, we would be happy to include apprenticeships too. In the end, it’s about graduating without a massive debt millstone, and apprenticeships are a great way to do that, so why not?
What are the benefits of targeting students with apps?
Ultimately it is the students who will benefit from the scholarships, so naturally we are keen to focus on them because they are our target market.
A web-app version will be available later in the year, but we were keen to establish GrantFairy as a mobile app first because mobile is where the majority of 17-25 year olds spend their time online now – the convenience is incredible, and the instant on-screen results make it a no-brainer. All the feedback we have received so far has mentioned how easy the app is to use, and that’s great to hear… that’s exactly what we were aiming for.
What are the key issues facing students as far as finances are concerned and what would you suggest as solutions?
The government line regarding student debt is “don’t worry, you’ll never pay it all back”. Frankly, that worries me. First of all, it’s the wrong message to send to teenagers who are inexperienced with money: paint it any way you want, but a £50k debt is a BIG deal and no-one should be telling you to ignore it. That’s just irresponsible.
Then there are all the arguments about “it’s not really a debt, it’s a tax” or “it’s not really a tax, it’s a contribution”. Honestly, that is all just semantics. You are signing up for a debt which, under the current rules, will stay with you for the next 30 years unless you manage to pay it all off in the meantime. And that will affect your ability to get a car loan, to get a mortgage, and it will affect major life decisions like starting a family: most of us are too young to be thinking about things like that in our teens, but a few short years from now, many of us will be settling down and thinking about raising a mini-me… lack of money leads many couples to postpone those plans.
What else should prospective students be taking into account?
The thing you need to remember though is that those rules can change at any time. And no government is going to feel obligated to play by rules which were established 20-30 years ago when the original loans were taken out. If they want you to pay more, they will move the goalposts and you will pay more – whether it’s a “windfall tax” on anyone who graduated university, or by extending the repayment period to 40 or 50 years, or by getting rid of the £25k threshold… you may even find the debt cancellation period is eliminated entirely and the debt is taken from your estate when you die.
As for what to do about all that, I would say the most important thing is to stop and think before signing up for a student loan. I’m not going to suggest anyone avoids going to university, but maybe stop and ask yourself why you’re going. If your answer is “because my friends are doing it” or “because it looks like fun” then maybe you’d be better taking a year off to think about it. University is a major commitment, both in monetary terms and in terms of the time you spend gaining your degree certificate. Make sure it’s what you really really want (zig-a-zig-ahhh) before choosing the posters for your dorm room. And if you do decide to go, look for other sources of funding in addition to signing up for the student loan. A scholarship could help you cut thousands from your debt, and you may be able to graduate with no debt at all.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? What inspired you to set up GrantFairy?
I was actually put off going to uni because of the debt. My friends and teachers were all “just do it” and that set the alarm bells off, so I ran the numbers and checked the history and I was amazed that we might all be signing up for something which could become a major burden to us. Thirty years is a long time. And the rules can change. And in the meantime you’re going to want to DO things with your life, and the kind of debt we’re talking about could prevent you from doing them.
The big kicker for me was a graph. You know about compound interest, right? Anyone who doesn’t needs to check it out. Well the way compound interest works on student loans means that your initial £50k debt could balloon over the 30 year life of the loan to an eye-watering £850,000. That’s not a typo. You’re paying 3% over RPI and we’re at historic lows right now. When that reverts to the norm (5.7%), the size of your debt sky-rockets.
That scared me. It still makes me shudder now, to be honest. Because at some stage that debt will matter – the government can’t afford to write it off for the millions of students who will go through the system over the next 30 years. And that tells me the rules will HAVE to change.
So I wanted to do something about it – to make sure other students in my situation wouldn’t be put off going to university because of the debt – and GrantFairy is the result.
How well do you think students are coping with the increased costs of studying? Do you think this is shaping them in any meaningful way?
I think first-year and second-year students going to university now are still largely unaware of the potential seriousness of the situation – they’re too busy enjoying themselves and they’re not considering the money side of things “because you’ll never pay it all back”.
It’s only now we’re starting to see students graduating with £50k~£60k debts that we’re seeing a reaction, as those first student loan statements start to hit the doormat and they begin to realise what’s happened. But by then it’s too late of course.
I think there will be “shaping” but I don’t think it will be a pleasant experience for many and I expect there to be a lot of anger when future governments impose additional taxes or change the rules because they can’t afford to keep things running at a loss.
Of course, I really hope I’m wrong about all this. But I prefer to play the “what if?” game when the stakes are high, and right now I don’t think they could be much higher for my generation.
To download the app, please visit: https://www.grantfairy.com/