A record-breaking number of students have sought financial assistance from the University’s Student Support Fund during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to the repeated and prolonged closures of pubs, restaurants, retail and other part-time jobs, many students have been unable to work since March 2020. For those students who were already struggling to make ends meet, this inability to obtain extra income for almost a year has pushed them into financial hardship.
Students are not only facing a lack of work opportunities. To some students, the stay-at-home order issued by the UK Government over Christmas may have been a relief, but for others, their money problems did not end with moving out of university accommodation.
Although it may seem that returning to the family home would alleviate pressures on individual students, for many in low-income households it merely moves the burden of financial responsibility onto their families. While desperate to support their children’s journeys through higher education, some simply do not have the funds to do so.
Last year, the University of Reading launched its Student Hardship Appeal to support students through the pandemic. This emergency support is the last option for even the most prepared students who have nowhere else to turn.
Every penny counts
As we entered the third national lockdown in January 2021, the number of students seeking emergency hardship support surged. Like many individuals across the UK – even those who had tried their best to prepare for the financial challenges of COVID-19 – students did not expect to have to make their savings stretch into 2021 without any work opportunities.
For Ella, a final-year psychology student, the inability to take up part-time work made it impossible for her to pay her accommodation. She said:
“My family don’t earn a lot; I have been in part-time work since I was 16 and I pay my share of rent and bills when I’m at home.
“I thought that with the relaxed restrictions I could probably get work in a bar or restaurant to support me through my final year, but there was nothing available and we soon went into another lockdown.
“I did my best to get by on my own in the first term, but by January 2021 my money had run out and I couldn’t pay for my accommodation and living costs.”
There are many students, like Ella, who cannot ask their family for extra support and have exhausted all other options. The Student Support Fund helps these students out of crisis, enabling them to get back on track with their studies.
A safety net
After a record increase in hardship requests in the autumn term, many universities assessed the funding available to students and determined that their students needed more help than universities alone could offer.
In the hopes of obtaining further support for their students, university representatives across the UK petitioned the government to provide funding to students facing financial problems as a result of COVID-19.
In response, the government awarded a limited amount of funding to universities to help support students suffering in hardship situations. The government funding is limited to hardship cases only and must be distributed to students by 31 March 2021.
This short-term emergency funding has enabled us to support students during the very difficult months of the third national lockdown. However, Reading’s Student Support Team continues to receive up to 10 requests per day, and it is likely this funding will soon be exhausted.
While the short-term government funding has been important for students facing financial pressures during the first few months of 2021, it is University of Reading supporters who have been providing funding for a record-breaking number of hardship grants since the launch of our Student Hardship Appeal last year. This funding has enabled many students to return to university when they might not otherwise have been able to.
One of those students, Olivia, received hardship funding after being forced into debt just to pay for her rent. She said:
“Thanks to the donors who supported me, I now feel financially covered for this term. It’s made a big difference and I’m so relieved that I can now focus on my final year of studies.”
The additional support provided by donors has proved vital to the welfare of our students – and combined with government support – has helped more students than ever before.
“I want to say a massive thank you to the donors who are supporting me. Without their help, I would not even be in higher education. It is such a relief to stop worrying about money and to focus on my studies.”
Funding the future
The short-term emergency support provided by the government allowed the Student Support Team to help students during the difficult months of the third national lockdown, and to reserve some donor funding until the summer term – traditionally the time when students need it the most.
This funding offers an important safety net for students, but the volume of applications remains high. Although we do not know what the summer term will look like as the country emerges from lockdown, we do know that donor support will continue to be vital.
The University would like to extend its gratitude to everyone who has supported the appeal so far. You are making a huge difference to students’ lives. Thank you for supporting our students.