How can high-quality media outlets entice the next generation to read their content — especially when it is behind a paywall? For Financial Times, the answer has been to give it away for free and find ways to engage them directly.

Partly in response to demand from younger readers, including a vocal Cambridge student whom FT ended up hiring, we decided two years ago to provide free digital access to all 16- to 19-year-olds in full-time education, their teachers, and their schools.

At a time of rising concern over poor quality and fake news, the aim was to offer the full range of FT news, analysis, comment, data, graphics, audio, and video output to a group that could benefit.

The programme gives access to and raises awareness of the FT among young readers old enough to appreciate the content but still too young to be a focus for promotions. This means no cannibalisation of existing or potential paid subscribers. After graduating, many students, including those at university, can have continued access through FT licenses with their institutions or via discounted individual subscriptions. 

The FT offers students free access to a wide range of content and educational tools.
The FT offers students free access to a wide range of content and educational tools.

To access FT online without hitting the paywall, schools must register and be verified. As long as teachers and students have official school e-mail addresses, they can also create their own individual accounts, allowing them to download the app and access the FT at home and on mobile.

Since the start of last year, the FT has expanded its programme from the UK to cover schools around the world and now counts participants in more than 100 countries. Any student and school with a digital connection and an interest in FT content can gain access globally. That includes those with strong English reading skills, but also those studying English as a foreign language, who can access frequent audio versions of articles alongside their text. We welcome potential partnerships to spread awareness and engage students and their teachers around the world.

FT for schools also responds to the guidance of exam makers and recruiters. They are seeking evidence of students’ wider reading beyond textbooks and the ability to put into context what they have learned in the classroom by citing examples from current affairs. 

The content can help enhance students’ studies, discussions, essays, exams, performance, and the transition to further education or the world of work. Existing articles are showcased on a special landing page, on social media (including @FT4S), and through regular e-mails.

Video content, compellingly presented graphics, up to date data, and even several games have proven particularly popular. There are economic dashboards showing recent data from the UK economy, the US, China, Japan, and Russia, and a searchable graphics hub.

As the best judges of what is useful in the classroom, a network of teachers shares articles they identify as most helpful. They also provide suggested discussion points and questions. Some articles have been mapped to suit curriculum in economics, business, politics, and geography.

There are frequent competitions designed to encourage and reward high-quality writing by students, the best of which are published to showcase the views of a younger generation to the FT’s broader readership, such as one with the World Bank on the topic of reimagining education for the 21st Century.

The FT is also experimenting with a dedicated FT Schools YouTube channel to combine relevant existing videos with some bespoke ones providing career guidance.