Bursaries will be reduced by as much as £500 for next year’s cohort, despite the continuing rise in student living costs such as accommodation and food. Care leavers and students with household incomes of less than £16,000 will be hit the hardest, with £500 reductions of £3,000 to£2,500 and £1,800 to £1,300 respectively. Students with household incomes between £16,00 and £20,000 will see their expected amount reduced from £1,000 to £800.
A number of students currently receiving bursaries have expressed their disappointment at the decision. One student, who wished to remain anonymous, said ‘I was granted a means based bursary which renews every year according to student finance. I am eligible for this because my mother doesn’t work due to her disability. On top of this I cannot ask her for money because she has filed for bankruptcy.
‘I often have to pay her bills and food for her, until she can pay me back. The money that I get from the bursary pays for just under half of my rent (which doesn’t not include bills, food or extras).
‘In previous years I have always chosen to have this paid into my bank account so that if something goes wrong I can use this money for emergencies and work out rent later.’
They continued: ‘The university cutting £500 from bursaries will mean students are not getting vital help they need to pay their rent, bills, travel costs or any other expenses they may have. This money is something that students rely on to tackle the stress of having to work multiple jobs just to get by’.
Research by student housing charity Unipol and the National Union of Students (NUS) in December 2018 found the average price of student accommodation in the UK jumped by nearly a third in the last six years.
A representative for UEA said: ‘UEA’s overall spending on widening participation has increased but less of it is being spent directly on bursaries because there is little evidence bursaries have any demonstrable effect.’
However another student described the bursary as a ‘financial safety blanket’ they rely on.
‘I know student bank accounts get overdrafts but I was always worried about going into mine, so knowing I had the bursary was really comforting – I could use it for emergencies if I needed to,’ they said.
‘I’d be a lot more stressed and worried if I didn’t have that money to fall back on, as I couldn’t ask my parents for any extra money because they barely have any themselves.’
In March 2018 the University’s Widening Participation Committee (WPC), including the UEASU sabbatical officers, approved the Access and Participation Plan to focus on activities that have a measurable impact on supporting under-represented groups get to university and succeed. The committee agreed the revised eligibility criteria and amounts for bursaries for 2019/20 entry at that meeting.
One student said she feared the decision would affect the academic participation of new students, especially for ‘academic studies like going on field trips and for society memberships that allow for socialising.
‘Bursaries can help with everything from the weekly food shop to lowering accommodation or even course fees. I think this shows how universities are becoming more business like’.
According to the University, evidence suggests that nationally, bursaries have little impact on supporting underrepresented students in accessing higher education or successfully completing their studies.
‘The Office for Students was clear universities should only continue to offer bursaries where they could prove impact on widening access or participation.’
The university spokesperson went on to say ‘the University’s WPC did agree to maintain bursaries being part of our Access and Participation Plan investment but to target this even further at the most in-need students and reallocate remaining budget towards more active support for underrepresented students.
‘That budget has been used to bring in dedicated members of staff based in Faculties, Study Abroad Office, Student Support Services and Careers, support for SU Buddy Scheme, and other transition activities, and development of peer support mental health schemes.’
The spokesperson confirmed the changes to bursaries only apply to new entrants at UEA, and will not affect any current students who (as long as eligible) will continue on the previous bursary scheme.
‘If any student faces unexpected financial pressures, they should contact Student Support Services for information about The Access to Learning Fund (ALF) or UEA Hardship Fund’.