Student Requests For Hardship Funding Doubled In The Last Year
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The number of students asking for emergency cash to help with living costs has doubled over the last year.
Information provided through BBC News Freedom of Information (FOI) requests also showed the extent to which students have been hit financially by the pandemic, with requests for hardship funding nearly tripling between 2018-19 and 2020-21 at 95 UK universities.
Speaking to the BBC, students have revealed that they could not afford their rent and struggled to eat when bar and retail work was unavailable during the pandemic.
While the number of students enrolled in UK higher education also rose over the same time period, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), this rise was slower than that of those requesting hardship cash.
Speaking to the BBC, 25-year-old Rachael Sampson said she’d struggled to find a part-time job after moving to study at London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (RCSSD) in September 2020.
She first applied to the university's hardship fund, with £941 in her account - explaining this would leave her with £241 after rent, but was told she was not ‘seen as currently being in hardship’.
During her second term, Rachael says her mental health had suffered, and that soon she was struggling to buy food.
"One of the most shameful things I've ever had to do is go to the supermarket and steal food," she admitted. “Stealing bread and pasta and cheese, just so I could eat.”
Thankfully, her second hardship application was successful - although by this time she had had to move in with her parents, in Bradford.
She says the £1,000 she was awarded meant she could return to London when in-person teaching resumed, but that the financial difficulties have left her feeling ‘resentful’.
"It's very hard to pick yourself back up from that, because you just feel like nobody wants to help you,” she said.
A spokesperson for the RCSSD, which distributed £80,913 in hardship funding in 2020-21, said the institution had worked ‘swiftly’ to help students in the pandemic and that student wellbeing was ‘the primary concern’.
She said: “[Funds are allocated] via a panel who take care to assess students' individual circumstances, but the process can take time, particularly at periods of high demand.”
The coming academic year will see the real-terms value of the maximum maintenance loans - for students from the poorest backgrounds - fall to its lowest level in seven years, according to Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis.
A Universities UK spokesperson said that while institutions had increased efforts to support students during the pandemic, ‘these are really difficult times for many students struggling with the cost-of-living crisis’.
Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, said £256m was available to help students this financial year, in addition to universities' hardship funds, adding that poorer students will ‘have access to the largest ever amounts of support for their living costs in cash terms’.
National Union of Students higher-education vice-president Hillary Gyebi-Ababio said: “It is increasingly unsustainable for universities to have to divide hardship funding among increasing numbers of students.
"With soaring cost of living, rising student rent and increasingly insecure employment, it's clear that demand is far outstripping supply when it comes to student hardship funding.”
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