Hardship fund hits hard times

Malcolm Ross

 

Discretionary funds have reached a “critical” level as some universities have run out of the hardship finance.

Universities have run out of crisis funds to help those struggling to find enough money to continue their courses, with academic performance now being taken into account when applying for help.

 

Edinburgh Napier University has seen an increase of 28 per cent in applications from students, compared with last year, and it predicts it will run out of money before the next discretionary funds are handed out.

Napier staff are advising students to try renegotiating debts, as they cannot help all those going to them for aid.

 

Professor Joan Stringer, the principal, said: “It is becoming increasingly apparent that many of those fortunate enough to have a part-time job are having their hours or shifts significantly cut and many others are struggling to find any part-time work.”

Stringer continued: “We are also finding many students’ parents are no longer able to provide the level of help previously afforded, due to, for example, loss of their own employment, less work available to the self-employed and loss of income from savings.”

She added: “In order to most efficiently manage the remaining discretionary funds, applicants are being advised, where possible, to negotiate suitable repayment plans for any outstanding bills, particularly utility bills, and to rearrange any existing debt or loan repayments.”

 

About £16 million was distributed by the Scottish Government in higher education discretionary funds for 2008-9 – an 8 per cent increase on 2007-8. But already this year, universities in real difficulty have gone back with demands totalling £882,500 to cope with urgent student appeals for help.

 

Abertay University in Dundee has already seen its hardship fund run out twice this year, despite receiving extra cash from the Student Award Agency for Scotland (SAAS), which provides maintenance grants.

It ran out of money before Christmas and asked the SAAS for £40,000 extra. It received only £23,272 last month, and this has already been exhausted.

Abertay has had so many pleas for support that it is “means-testing” on an academic basis.

Professor Bernard King, its principal, said: “The university is withdrawing allocated funds to those students in poor academic standing to distribute to those in most need in good academic standing. The university believes additional funds will be required to assist those students who, mid-year, fall on hard times.”

 

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