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Atom Bank launches fund to promote higher education access in the North East

  • 12/04/2024
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Atom Bank launches fund to promote higher education access in the North East
Atom Bank has launched a fund with non-profit organisation County Durham Community Foundation to encourage and support access to higher education in the North East.

The Atom Futures Fund by Atom Bank and County Durham Community Foundation will be aimed at sixth form students from low-income backgrounds or in the care system, to help them apply to Russell Group universities. 

The North East has the highest percentage of students who are eligible for free school meals in the country and the lowest levels of opportunity to access employment. 

There is also a lower rate of attainment at school after the age of 16, combined with lower levels of progression to higher education. The organisation said all these factors resulted in poorer social and economic outcomes for young people in the region compared to other parts of the UK, and particularly affected those in care or from lower-income backgrounds. 

According to research from Sutton Trust, access to higher education, especially research-intensive universities, can help to improve social mobility. 


How the fund works 

The Atom Futures Fund is split into two parts, with the first offering a £250 cash incentive to at least 20 eligible County Durham students in year 13 who apply for any course at a Russell Group university. The funding can be used to support the application process such as interview preparation, travel expenses and study materials. 

The fund is currently open until 29 April. 

The second part of the fund offers £1,000 for applicants to have received and accepted an offer from a Russell Group university. This will help to aid any financial pressures.

At least five grants will be awarded each year, with the first round in August. 


Atom Bank support for higher education 

The fund is part of Atom Bank’s wider support in the North East, which includes a partnership with the Durham Sixth Form Centre and an annual paid internship programme for students. 

The bank also offers work experience to students from low-income backgrounds through the EY Foundation Smart Futures Chartered Banker Institute programme. 

This year, Atom Bank will begin funding two scholarships to Durham University’s Women in Technology programme. 

It also works with STEM education charities such as Stemettes, which supports girls, women and non-binary people to pursue careers in the vocation. 

Edward Twiddy (pictured), director of ESG at Atom, said: “Attending a Russell Group University provides many young people with a future rich in opportunities and the best chance of fulfilling their potential. But too many talented children from low-income backgrounds or growing up in care aren’t getting these chances, and this is especially true in the North East, where outcomes and opportunities for young people are amongst the poorest in the UK. 

“We can’t solve all the disparities between the most and the least fortunate, but as one of the largest and fastest growing employers in the North East, we want Atom Bank to be at the forefront of driving sustainable economic growth within the community, while unashamedly developing talented individuals who can join our growing workforce. Through the fund and other initiatives, we aim to break down some of the barriers that growing up in poverty or in care can put in front of young people, and in doing so help foster excellence in our region.” 

Michelle Cooper, CEO at County Durham Community Foundation, added: “We know that poverty steals opportunities and restricts futures. Children and young people living in poverty are much less likely to access opportunities in education, and much less likely to have the means to take advantage of those opportunities should they present themselves. 

“With this new fund, Atom Bank is actively working to create brighter futures for the youngsters of County Durham, enabling them to fulfil their ambitions and their potential. We’re delighted to partner with Atom Bank on the Atom Futures Fund and look forward to seeing the fund’s impact over the coming years.” 

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