Financial Aid Requests Tripled in 95 UK Universities
Due to the Covid pandemic, BBC News Freedom of Information requests that students request emergency cash at unprecedented levels, requiring a request for financial aid.
At 95 UK universities, the number of students asking for hardship funding nearly tripled between 2018-19 and 2020-21. In some cases, the amount of money given out nearly doubled last year.
Students have told BBC News they could not afford rent after bar and retail work dried up during the pandemic. Many said they had no choice but to turn to food banks or relatives for help.
Universities say they have stepped up efforts to help in “difficult times”. In total, 132 higher-education institutions responded to BBC Freedom of Information (FOI) requests about their hardship funds for the past three academic years.
The average amount awarded per student has also increased, from £247 in 2018-19 to £270 in 2020-21.
At the University of Manchester, 1,936 students were awarded £500,000 in hardship funding last year – up from 924 students the year before. The average award was £258, compared with £182 in 2018-19.
“We know this is a worrying time for many of our students,” they added.
At Durham University, 2,427 students were given £1 million in hardship payments last year – up from 1,297 the year before.
A spokesperson said the university had “seen an unprecedented increase” in students seeking financial support.
“We have been clear with students that we are here to help them through this challenging period,” they added.
The University of Sheffield saw a similar trend, with 2,064 students given £800,000 in hardship payments last year – up from 1,382 the year before.
A spokesperson said the university was “committed to supporting all of our students during these difficult times”.
But they added: “We would urge any student experiencing financial difficulty to get in touch with us as soon as possible so that we can provide the appropriate support.”
At the University of Liverpool, 1,832 students were given £800,000 in hardship payments last year – up from 564 the year before.
A spokesperson said: “No student should have to worry about where their next meal is coming from or whether they can afford their rent.”
They added that the university had been “working hard” to support students during the pandemic.
The University of Kent saw the biggest increase in students requesting hardship payments, from 94 in 2018-19 to 1,064 last year. The amount of money awarded also increased, from £14,000 to £600,000.
A spokesperson said: “We know that the current circumstances are exceptionally difficult for our students.”
They added that the university was “committed to doing everything we can to support them”.
But they said the university was “confident” that its students were “receiving the best possible advice and support to help them through these challenging times”.
95% of those who applied for hardship funding at 95 different UK universities successfully received some form of financial assistance. This number has nearly tripled since 2018-19, likely due to the effects of the Covid pandemic on students’ ability to find work and afford rent and other living expenses. Universities have stepped up their efforts to support needy students, but many say they are struggling to keep up with the increased demand.
Rachael Sampson, 25, is a student at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (RCSSD) in London. She applied to the university’s hardship fund after struggling to find part-time work when she moved to London in September 2020.
“I was working in retail and then bars before I came to London, but once I got here, it was really hard to find anything,” Sampson said. “I had no choice but to turn to food banks or relatives for help.”
Sampson is not alone; many students across the UK are finding themselves in similar situations due to the pandemic. Universities say they are doing their best to support students, but with the number of requests for financial assistance increasing markedly, they are struggling to keep up.
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