This year has been extraordinary, in so many ways. Our students have been faced with some of the most challenging circumstances in our University history, and it’s because of our community of alumni and supporters that many are able to overcome these challenges.
2020 has been a year of uncertainty, and students in particular have been adversely impacted by the constant changes and challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure our students’ education didn’t suffer, the University worked hard to ease the challenges students faced wherever possible.
Since the launch of our Student Hardship Appeal in September, the generous contributions made by our alumni and supporters are easing the financial challenges for many of our students who had nowhere else to turn.
Rising to the occasion
University donors are responding to these exceptional times with exceptional generosity. From providing financial support to students struggling to make ends meet, to providing those in digital poverty with the equipment they need for remote learning, their generosity is making a lasting difference to many students.
Thanks to this dedicated community of supporters we were able to provide more than five times the normal number of grants in October alone; enabling students – like Ian and Olivia – to start the term with confidence.
Third-year undergraduate student, Ian, was only able to return to Reading for his final year because of the support of donors.
Ian said: “The pandemic caused everywhere to stop hiring. I knew I couldn’t pay my share of the bills that month and I had important coursework deadlines looming. I was at a loss as to what to do.
“I was granted £1,750 from the Student Support Fund. This money completely alleviated my financial stress. This financial help meant I could start to live my life again, and I can now concentrate on completing my studies. Thank you.”
Third-year undergraduate student, Olivia, also applied to the Student Support Fund after losing her job in the first national lockdown in England.
She said: “My job was vital to being able to make ends meet; my student loan almost covered my rent but left me with no money to live off. My income paid for the rest of my rent, my groceries, my phone bill and all my other everyday essentials.”
Having exhausted all her other options, Olivia found the help she needed:
“I’d like to say a big thank you to the donors who have supported me. Everything is so unpredictable at the moment, and amongst all this uncertainty it’s reassuring to have this help.”
The digital demand
Alongside providing funds for students with immediate financial difficulties caused by COVID-19, donors have also provided equipment to students in digital poverty through the Digital Support Fund; enabling them to access the increasingly digital learning environment that is now essential for University studies.
Reading’s decision to provide a blended teaching approach was made to ensure students’ safety, but for those students in digital poverty it created yet another obstacle to overcome in an already challenging year.
Students like Peter tell CONNECTED what a difference this support made to his studies.
He said: “The pandemic has badly impacted my family’s financial situation – my dad is a taxi driver and there just isn’t the work for him at the moment, so both my parents are now relying on Universal Credit. I just couldn’t ask them for help knowing how insecure their own finances are.
“Despite working through my gap year, I didn’t have any money left over to purchase the laptop I badly needed. My wages went towards other essentials such as food and accommodation, so I applied for help from the Digital Support Fund.
“I was so relieved when I found out I had been awarded this grant. Pharmacy is a course with a full timetable of lectures from 9am – 6pm every weekday. With about 80% of my degree now online due to COVID-19, owning a laptop is essential and I would have struggled to participate fully in my studies without one.”
This term, our donors have provided more laptops and digital support grants to students in need than ever before. This provision of equipment has ensured that students like Peter won’t fall behind due to financial difficulties.
An ongoing battle
The support of our community allowed us to meet the fivefold increase in demand for emergency funding in October, but that demand did not slow down as the term went on. In November, we also issued a record-breaking number of grants to students in desperate need.
As this term draws to a close, we are reminded that many students are still struggling to make ends meet as a result of COVID-19. Our work is far from done, and we could not have made it this far without the support of our community. They ensure we can help the students that need our support, alleviating financial stress and focusing on education.
Every donation, no matter its size, has contributed to the success of our students. To all our donors – thank you for your ongoing support.
Watch Vice-Chancellor, Professor Robert Van de Noort’s message of thanks: