The shadow higher education minister has written to Michelle Donelan. We have the letter here
I would like to thank you for our regular meetings and for your efforts to take opinions and listen to concerns from all areas of Higher Education.
In our last meeting we discussed the fact that many university students needed urgent financial help to cope with the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. You assured me you were confident that every university would be in a position to help every student in genuine need through its hardship funds. However, after speaking to universities and the NUS I do not share your confidence.
I am writing to you ahead of our next scheduled meeting because I am growing increasingly concerned by evidence that the financial support available through those funds is patchy, often inadequate and sometimes non-existent.
Some universities have now launched crowdfunding appeals to raise money after their usual hardship funds were overwhelmed by requests: Sheffield Hallam, University of York and the University of Greenwich have been named publicly.
Elsewhere students are falling foul of labyrinthine or seemingly perverse application criteria. For example Birmingham’s hardship fund for post-graduate students requires the student to have had a minimum average of £180 a week for the first 25 weeks of the year (up until 20 March) before their request will even be considered, which has locked-out those who need it most.
I do not have to emphasise the fact that it will mostly be those students who have overcome the greatest barriers to get to university who will be affected the most. I have already heard concerns from those in the sector that the drop-out rate will be higher this year and the news I am hearing, about the failures of hardship funds to support all those who need help, adds to my worry.
Students without children cannot claim Universal Credit and the jobs they typically undertake are the casual, zero-hours jobs least likely to be offered furlough. It cannot be right for their welfare to be considered the sole province of individual universities, which under current circumstances means consigning it to the luck of the draw—a lottery which has left some unable to manage.
I would urge the Government to take a pro-active role and I would welcome any proposals for guaranteeing there is adequate financial provision for the young people who have been caught in this storm.
Shadow minister for higher and further education