Page last updated at 07:12 GMT, Saturday, 21 March 2009

Student hardship pleas 'increase'

Scottish graduates
About 50% of students work during term time to support themselves

There has been a big increase in the number of university students across the UK applying for emergency hardship funds, research by the BBC suggests.

Of the 18 universities contacted, 11 saw rises as students struggle to pay fees and costs as part-time work dries up and more parents lose their jobs.

Plymouth says requests are up by 38% and Newcastle 20%. University College London and Cardiff also reported rises.

Ministers say they are doing what they can to ensure finance is not a barrier.

The National Union of Students says it is concerned about the trend.

About 50% of students work during term time, using the money to pay for tuition, accommodation, food and socialising.

Least well-off

BBC Breakfast found that Manchester Metropolitan University was one of those reporting a big increase in applications.

Tricia Joyce, the university's student financial support officer, said: "We have got a 25% increase in applications to the access to learning fund than this time last year and in the last month we have had an almost 50% increase in inquiries about extra funding."

The University of Abertay in Dundee has run out of funding twice as more students than ever apply for hardship payments.

University of Plymouth - up 38%
Newcastle University - up 20%
Abertay University - up 11%

James Nicholson, head of student services, said: "Once upon a time it might well have been those from the least well-off background, but actually it's becoming more than just those people and so that's what's concerning.

"It's not just a small group of people - it's becoming larger."

Not all universities have reported increases but where they have the problem is compounded by the lack of part-time jobs.

The University of Leeds student employment service says it has twice as many people looking for term-time jobs than in previous years - far more than the number of jobs available.

Ryan Brain, a student at Staffordshire University.

Second-year student Edward Gillson said: "I worked in retail before and have gone back in the holidays as a student and got work but now you call up now and you can't get work any more because they don't have the hours."

Gail Hardwick, employment manager at Leeds University Student Union, said: "Students who may have had jobs in the last calendar year returned in January to find their jobs don't exist.

"For some students it's absolutely critical that they work during term time. It's the difference between them being able to complete their course or dropping out."

The universities contacted by the BBC reporting increases in emergency hardship fund applications were: Plymouth, Newcastle, Manchester Metropolitan, Abertay in Dundee, Hull, Cardiff, Nottingham, University College London, Exeter, University of Manchester, and Sheffield.

The University of East Anglia, Leeds, Liverpool, Birmingham, Coventry, and Southampton reported there had been no rise.

Warwick said it had seen a drop in applications.

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