“A start, but not nearly enough”: Student Minds responds to £50m student hardship funding announcement
This week, the government announced £50m in funding targeted at students in England who are experiencing financial difficulties as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic. Student Minds welcomes news that the government has provided more material support for students, however the £50m figure will fall far short of what is needed at this time.
The government funding announced on 2nd February for students amounts to roughly £25 per head, which is the equivalent of just over a single day’s rent for the average student, according to the latest available figures (1). This is inadequate to address the negative implications the pandemic has had for the financial stability, academic success, and mental wellbeing of students.
The link between financial hardship and poor mental health in students is well evidenced in academic literature and in our own research. Higher education students have not only experienced financial difficulties as a consequence of the pandemic, but they also do not have access to the same monetary support as other members of the population. Full-time students, for instance, are currently not eligible for universal credit, while international students have no recourse to public funds.
Data from NUS research (2) in November shows that a quarter of student respondents said the pandemic had a major impact on their finances, while three in five said the pandemic had at least a slight impact. On 29th January, troubling coverage from Channel 4 captured the plight of international students who were forced to rely on foodbanks and were sharing rooms with four or five others while studying remotely (3). We are deeply concerned about the extent of hardship being faced by students and are worried that some will be struggling to meet basic needs.
Rosie Tressler OBE, Chief Executive Officer at Student Minds, said: “Every student’s university experience has been impacted by the pandemic in some respect. We’re pleased that the government is providing material support to students most in financial distress. A means-tested fund of £50m is a start, but not nearly enough to make a noticeable difference for the majority of students. We look forward to seeing details of how this funding will be distributed. If the demand for this hardship funding is as high as we would expect, processing funding applications could place a significant administrative burden on university and students’ union staff. This could delay the distribution of funds when we are already in the eleventh month of this pandemic.”
She continued: “Hardship funding applications can be daunting for some students, and we are concerned that those who need this support the most will not have the means or awareness of their options to access their support.”
We believe the government should seriously explore the possibility of providing a non means-tested, basic grant to all higher education students. This acknowledges the fact that all students have been impacted by the pandemic and would also empower them to use financial support to address their own needs best, whether they help pay for living costs, enhance access to digital learning, or are invested in their own mental health and wellbeing. We hope that any financial support for students during the pandemic comes as part of a wider package of measures which will ensure the long-term sustainability of the higher education sector and support student mental health.
Need support now?
If you are a student struggling because of the pandemic, support is available. Student Space is a free, online, confidential mental health support platform, available for all higher education students in England and Wales. Student Space provides direct support via text, phone, email and web-chat, alongside plenty of online resources and a directory of support services at your university. Student Space launched in August 2020 with a £3m grant from the Office for Students and Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and will be available throughout the rest of the academic year.
You can access Student Space at studentspace.org.uk. We are here to make it easier for you to find the support that you need during the coronavirus pandemic.