Coronavirus: Loughborough launches campaign for students in financial hardship

But politicians and students’ union reps have warned others across the country may be struggling

Loughborough University and Loughborough Students’ Union (LSU) have launched a campaign to support students facing financial hardship during the Covid-19 crisis.

The partnership is fundraising for their most vulnerable students and has already raised over £7,300 from almost 100 supporters.

This new emergency fund is a branch of the university’s hardship fund – a safety net all universities have in place to support students who are affected by some form of unforeseen cost.

The donation page states: “By gifting £40 to the cause, a student will be able to buy a week’s worth of food and essential supplies.

“A donation of £300 would provide a basic laptop or alternative equipment that can help a student to study remotely as a result of no longer having access to campus facilities.

“In addition, this financial support will help to cover living costs such as bills and avoid debt or students calling on their families for help who may already be financially stretched.”

Welfare and diversity executive officer Matt Youngs said, “the recent coronavirus outbreak has proven a significant challenge for many students”.

“Now more than ever, it is important that they feel supported. Which is why I’m asking you to provide any support you can to ensure that we are looking after the welfare of every student that makes up this fantastic community,” he added.

Students in financial hardship across the country

Many students find their maintenance loan does not cover the cost of rent and bills and rely on part-time employment to make ends meet.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan highlighted the plight of some students in a letter on Friday 27 March.

It will be a matter for universities themselves to deal with individual students’ situations. We understand that most universities maintain hardship funds, which can be deployed where necessary
– Michelle Donelan, universities minister

Ms Donelan’s correspondence states: “I am also aware that some students are facing financial difficulties as a result of the current Covid-19 outbreak. The Government is working closely with the HE sector on a wide range of issues, and student wellbeing is at the heart of those discussions.

“It will be a matter for universities themselves to deal with individual students’ situations. We understand that most universities maintain hardship funds, which can be deployed where necessary. You should also be aware that if you are on a PAYE contract (e.g. part time student work), you may still get 80% of normal income.”

The NUS has warned that students from low-income backgrounds may face financial hardship because they are more likely to rely on income from part-time jobs and might not have financial support from a parent or guardian.

Liam McCabe, NUS Scotland president said many students and apprentices “are part of the gig economy working in precarious contracts, zero hours contracts, and hourly paid jobs in parts of the economy that are low paid and will be hit hard during the progression of Covid-19”.

The cost of accommodation

Eva Crossan Jory, NUS vice-president (welfare) has called for universities and private sector purpose built student accommodation (PBSA) providers to ban evictions and subsidise or waive rents. The NUS has also called for financial assistance to be made available by the government.

Shadow housing secretary John Healey and shadow education secretary Angela Rayner wrote to their opposite numbers in government to highlight the issue yesterday.

The letter to Gavin Williamson and Robert Jenrick states: “It has come to our attention that some university students are being told they have to pay for their student housing despite their universities closing, and in some cases instructing them to return home.”

“What wider action are you, and universities, taking to help higher education students cover their housing costs at this time?” the frontbenchers added.

So far IQ student accommodation and Hello Student are among a number of providers to confirm they will refund students’ rent covering the period from the 9 April and 25 April respectively.

Unite Students – one of the largest national student accommodation providers – has given students until 5pm on 10 April to terminate their contracts and will not collect rent after that date.

A spokesperson for Unite Students added: “We are also very conscious that some students may need to extend their stay with us, for example, international students who may not be able to return home due to travel restrictions or those estranged from family without the traditional support network in place. We will provide accommodation for these students over the summer months at no further charge and do everything we can to support them at this time.”

Jacob Collier, community officer at Nottingham University Students’ Union, has highlighted two local PBSA providers that have not updated their rent guidelines.

Mr Collier published letters he has written to Derwent Students and Manor Villages on Twitter, calling for them to waive rents for students who have been sent home.

Many universities have updated their student hardship guidelines following the coronavirus outbreak.

The University of Huddersfield announced emergency support fund for students affected by “serious financial difficulty as a direct result of Covid-19”.

Ulster University told the BBC it was considering boosting its student hardship fund as a result of Covid-19.

De Montford University is another institution which has set up a dedicated fund for students, but its website states it can only offer students in financial difficulties “a contribution” towards living costs and could not cover rent.

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