Applications for hardship grants rise as bursary cut fears loom

A 22 per cent rise in applications last year has come amid fears that new reforms from regulators could see bursary funds slashed

With Nursing bursaries having been scrapped, fears have been raised regarding the future of other forms of student financial support. Image: Scholly

An investigation into numbers of hardship grant applications has shown that in the year 2015/16 there was a rise of 22 per cent on the previous year.

Hardship grants are funds made available to students who experience financial difficulties while at university. Applications are assessed by the Student Financial Support Unit and take up to four weeks to be processed.

The rise in applications in the year 2015/16 coincides with a decrease in the percentage of applications accepted, with 71 per cent of applications being successful in comparison with 86 per cent in the previous year. In the years before this, acceptance rates were 80 per cent in 2013/14, and 79 per cent in 2012/13.

YUSU President Millie Beach commented: “While it’s certainly positive that the message about the hardship fund’s availability is getting out, we are really concerned by the increased applications for hardship funding, and the number of grants given, as this is indicative of how much financial support is needed.

“We are working with and lobbying the University on a range of issues – including the increasing rental premiums, costs associated with living, cuts to bursaries and student wages meaning that students are paid significantly less than peers over 25 for doing the same job. There is also significant pressure on family members to make up any difference in student loans.”

Nouse intially received an FOI response with different 2016/17 figures, but received a revision shortly before publication. A University spokesman commented: “The request was reopened after an administrative error was discovered in the original response. It is important that all information supplied is accurate and up-to-date”.

It is not clear what has led to the rise in hardship grant applications, but the rise corresponds with cuts to NHS bursaries for nursing students that would have affected students in York’s health science department, as well as broader cost increases in living costs and tuition fees. The cuts have coincided with a national fall in nursing applications of 23 per cent.

A University spokesperson stated: “We are not aware of any bursary cuts for nursing students leading to an increased demand for hardship funds.

“We don’t want money problems to stop any student from successfully completing their studies but understand the financial pressures students face. If anyone experiences financial hardship during their studies we have different funds that may be able to help.”

Furthermore, the figures come amid fears that new guidelines from regulatory body OFFA (office for fair access) may see  overall bursary funds cut in the coming year. In the same guidelines, with the total Widening Access budget projected to remain at similar levels, universities may have to allocate money to sponsor local schools and academic institutions. A University spokesperson said: “We won’t know the balance of spend between different areas of activity until OFFA approves our Access Agreement.”

The reforms are reminiscent of parts of the Teaching Excellence Framework introduced last year, which required universities to sponsor failing schools to attain the highest achievement ranking – linked to whether or not universities could raise tuition fees.

A University spokesperson responded: “The University has recently submitted its Access Agreement proposals for 2018/19 to OFFA which include the work we propose to do with schools. We already work with schools in many ways to help them with the work they do and to support pupils as they progress through school. This includes the provision of information, advice and guidance with a view to raising motivation and aspiration and to prepare pupils for progression to higher education.

“As we respond to OFFA guidance and the outcome of the government consultation ‘Schools that work for everyone’ we will keep our engagement with schools under review to ensure that we maintain productive and mutually beneficial working relationships with the institutions which are preparing future York students.”

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