By Sofie Kwiatkowski, News Reporter
As the cost-of-living sky rockets, with no government plans to increase maintenance loans in sight, some students feel left behind. The University of Bristol has brought in a range of measures in an effort to support students. Examining the effectiveness of these measures and whether the University is doing enough to combat the cost-of-living crisis, Epigram hears first-hand from struggling students.
The University’s schemes include hardship and technology funds, free financial advice and free exercise classes. Through the hardship fund, students can access different 'levels' of grants providing up to £1,000, depending on whether they meet certain requirements. Students who are care-leavers, or who have childcare duties, receive the largest sums. In response to the cost-of-living crisis, the University has also emphasized their provision of free study spaces, microwaves around campus and 200 extra-affordable rooms that have been made available.
To attain even the lowest level of the hardship fund—£250—students have to meet several criteria. If you are a home student, you must already receive the full maintenance loan—meaning your household income is less than £25,000 a year—have access to less than £500 across all bank accounts, and be in financial difficulty that puts you at risk of withdrawing from University.
Nine in 10 students in England worried about cost of living, survey finds https://t.co/gobU0b5ZkK— The Guardian (@guardian) November 23, 2022
Having to meet all of these criteria could make it relatively hard to qualify for the hardship fund. A student who has access to the hardship fund told Epigram that it was ‘good to get, but finding it was challenging.’ While they said the fund was ‘enough at the time’, the student questioned whether the University is considering the situation in the long-term, as the fund only provides a one-off payment that may not provide much financial stability for struggling students.
Some students find the University’s help does not go far enough, or is inaccessible in the first place. A student posted on the anonymous site 'Bristruths' about how the conditions to qualify for help are overly 'restrictive' and notes how 'food and rent' are areas the University doesn't help with.
This comment was submitted before the University released its new lunchtime deals to help students eat cheaply on campus. The cheaper food options include £2 jacket potatoes which are available at the Hiatt Baker Transport Hub, along with £2 hot lunches and low-priced soup which are on offer outside the Richmond Building. The £1 soup deal is available in all Source cafes on campus, excluding Senate House. The hot soup comes in a coffee-sized cup with a bread roll on the side.
Noticeably, none of these deals are available at Senate House. Excluding Hiatt Baker, which offers these deals on Saturdays, these offers are only available from Monday to Friday, meaning that the help the schemes provide may be limited.
Many feel that these measures do not go far enough. A student who spoke to Epigram called for 'more consistency' in the University's message. They dismissed the food schemes and suggested that the University should take more substantial action, for instance by lowering the prices of all Source Café food by 50p, a seemingly small but helpful measure.
‘I’m not going home for Christmas, I feel like I’ve got to stay here and keep working’
Another impact of the cost-of-living crisis is its effect on the student community. With societies often holding socials at pubs and other venues, the cost of socialising can be high. But what about those who cannot afford to go out whilst their peers can? One student described clubs and societies as 'restrictive', placing 'limitations' on social life for those who struggle financially at University. Expanding on this sense of financial and social vulnerability, they added that: ‘I feel less engaged. Going out I know I can only get one drink today… You don't think about just enjoying yourself.’
Some students have called for societies to do more to hold cost-inclusive socials that a greater number of students can access. Exclusion from events and the student community can be both isolating and detrimental to mental health.
‘It creates a sort of barrier especially when it comes to societies’
The gap between those who have to work to survive financially at University, and those who don’t, is becoming more prominent. This puts some students at a disadvantage. As a result of being dependent upon part-time work, some students may dedicate less time and energy to not only socialising but their degree. For these individuals, the attainment of financial stability may come at the detriment of their studies, meaning that an inequality in academic results may occur between those who are financially secure and those who are not.
Sophie Pender, an ex-Bristol student who founded the 93 percent club (a social mobility organisation aimed at empowering state school students at University), therefore labelled it a 'Cost of Learning Crisis' and said that the country was in 'dangerous territory.’
When asked for comment on how the University is responding to the cost-of-living crisis, a University of Bristol spokesperson said: ‘We are acutely aware of how the rising cost-of-living is affecting our community and have been working with Bristol SU to implement a range of measures based on student feedback.’ They emphasised that 'We are sorry to hear that some students do not feel we are doing enough to support them.’
It has been great to work with our student union officers on financial support, help, advice and good value food as we move into the winter. Thank you @Bristol_SU for being the voice we need to hear everyday at @BristolUni. https://t.co/kckHcyHalk— Evelyn Welch (@evelynwelch2013) November 6, 2022
They went on to describe their existing schemes which have reportedly received ‘positive feedback’, such as ‘cheaper food options at our cafes, discounted sports memberships and free fitness classes’, and encouraged students to contact their specialist teams if they were struggling. The University did not respond to specific questions on whether all Source Cafe food prices could be lowered, or if they were concerned about the potential increase in the disparity between the results of less and more financially secure students.
Featured Image: Unsplash / Marvin Meyer
How has the cost-of-living crisis affected you?