University hardship funds: campaigns raise thousands for struggling students

Campaigns are raising money to support students affected by the Covid-19 economic downturn

Universities across the country are boosting their hardship funds to support students affected by the Covid-19 economic shutdown.

According to a survey by the National Union of Students (NUS), 80% of students across the UK are worried about how to manage financially during the outbreak.

NUS president Zamzam Ibrahim has urged the government to back her plan for a £60 million national hardship fund for students in higher and further education.

“Our recent survey showed that up to 85% of working students may need additional financial support as incomes drop, and 80% of students are concerned about their ability to manage financially during the outbreak, with this even more common among disabled students,” Ms Ibrahim said.

Layla Moran, education spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, is leading a campaign calling on the government to provide emergency maintenance loans for students.

“They are not eligible for universal credit, and many who do work throughout their studies have fallen through the cracks in the government’s furlough scheme,” she said. “That’s why I, along with 13 other cross-party MPs with university constituencies, have written to the chancellor calling on him to introduce a maintenance grant to help poorer students through these tough and stressful times. We cannot allow the most vulnerable in our society to fall through the gaps.”

At the University of Bristol, vice-chancellor Prof Hugh Brady announced that he and the university’s executive board would take pay cuts, with half the resulting cash to be donated to the student hardship fund. Prof Brady has taken a 20% cut in pay, while other members of the executive board will voluntarily take a 10% reduction.

Prof Brady is not the only senior leader to donate some of their wage to a university hardship fund. Prof Lyn Dobbs, vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University (LMU), has been donating 10% of her salary to the London Met Student hardship Fund since the beginning of April.

University-campaigns-raise-thousands-for-student-hardship-funds Lynn Dobbs
Prof Lynn Dobbs, vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University, has donated 10% of her pay to her university’ student hardship fund.

Several universities have launched fundraising campaigns to boost hardship funds. The University of Essex launched its campaign on 17 April.

Lynsey Dawson, head of philanthropy at the university, said at the time: “We have already put in place many measures to help our students at this challenging time and through this appeal we are asking Essex graduates and supporters of the university to also get involved.

“Our Hardship Fund is providing immediate help to those with unexpected financial problems, whether this is due to the loss of part-time work or a drop in family income, or because they need help to pay off debts or to cover the cost of rent or general living expenses.

“Donations will go directly and quickly to students in need – making their lives easier and allowing them to continue their education here at Essex.”

A spokesperson for the university told University Business that between 23 March and 30 April the University of Essex had received 323 applications for support – many times more than would be received in an entire academic year. The fund is open to international and EU students for the first time.

“As well as providing cash, the team has been providing students with financial planning advice and signposting them to other areas of support, including the careers service and wellbeing team,” the University of Essex spokesperson added.

We always bang on about our wonderful community at our open days, but I think our fundraising this month has absolutely demonstrated that
– Matt Youngs, Loughborough University Students’ Union

Loughborough University (LU) and Loughborough Students’ Union (LSU) launched a fundraising campaign which has to date raised £53,000 – more than 178% of their initial target. Half of the total amount raised has come from the university.

LSU welfare and diversity executive officer Matt Youngs credited the university’s “generous students, staff and alumni” for helping the campaign surpass its target. “We always bang on about our wonderful community at our open days, but I think our fundraising this month has absolutely demonstrated that,” Mr Youngs said.

The LU 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.”

Mr Youngs said students at Loughborough coming forward for financial assistance had often been hit by unemployment and did not have a parental safety net to fall back on – “many students are financially dependent on employment to get them through university,” he added.

Students at Loughborough University that Mr Youngs has spoken to need help paying for groceries or rents. While the university has waived rents for students living in halls, those in the private sector are not in the same situation.

“While we know landlords and letting agencies might not be in the position to offer that sort of relief, we’ve had a really positive response from them, despite the challenges they face because rents are their primary source of income,” he explained.

He said the university has worked proactively with the town’s student lettings agencies in case any students run into arrears: “When students reach out to us and say, ‘I’m really struggling to pay rent’, LSU can offer support in contacting an agent or landlord directly, making sure the student’s case is heard and hopefully reducing the rent or wiping it altogether for those that are particularly struggling.”

Asked if he was confident LU and LSU had enough financial reserves to support all the students who needed help, Mr Young said: “At the moment, yes. But, there is uncertainty and we don’t know how much more challenging the situation will become.”

Right now, it is more important than ever before for universities to do as much as possible to support disadvantaged students, many of whom are from communities who will bear the brunt of the economic impact of this crisis
– Prof Sir Chris Husbands, Sheffield Hallam University

The Sheffield Hallam Coronavirus Appeal has so far raised over £15,000 for students, bolstering funds that have already been pledged from university coffers.

Prof Sir Chris Husbands, Sheffield Hallam University vice-chancellor, said: “This is an extraordinarily difficult time for our students, and even more so for those grappling with caring responsibilities, loss of income and lack of the right equipment to access our online teaching and resources.

“Right now, it is more important than ever before for universities to do as much as possible to support disadvantaged students, many of whom are from communities who will bear the brunt of the economic impact of this crisis.

“The launch of Sheffield Hallam’s emergency fund demonstrates our commitment to ensuring all our students, whatever their background or financial position, can continue to progress their degrees during this difficult time.”

Sheffield Hallam has over 30,000 students, with over one in four coming from low income households.

Matt Parkin, head of student funding at Sheffield Hallam, said the university had seen an “unprecedented” number of applications from students “whose circumstances are not covered by government measures”. A spokesperson confirmed that the university had received “approximately a year’s worth of enquiries within a six-week period”, including three to four times the number of enquiries from students needing food vouchers.

University campaigns raise thousands for student hardship funds Dundee
The Dundee University packages were put together at the campus Premier shop.

Over 300 food and care packages have been delivered to students from the University of Dundee who are facing financial hardship.

Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA) and the university’s student services team have delivered the packages supplied by the campus’s Premier shop, which opened especially to help with the effort.

Hundreds of students that reached out for support were given collection times for their emergency packs and some were even delivered across Tayside to students unable to travel due to self-isolation.

Lauren Macgregor, vice-president of student welfare at DUSA said “ The students I’ve seen whilst delivering the packs have been so grateful, and I think knowing that they’re part of a university that cares so deeply really reminds us of our strong community.

“This is different to any other welfare campaign I’ve been involved in and it’s fantastic to see the direct benefit of all the hard work everyone has put in.

“Working in collaboration with Student Services has been absolutely essential in making sure every student that needs our help can be supported.”

Read more: University staff mental health: demand for support services soars

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