‘The bursary has been a lifeline for many of us, but for others it isn’t enough’

When the university announced increased funding for mental health support, students and staff rejoiced. Some, however, worried about where the extra money would be found, and now the bursary page has quietly listed reduced amounts and revised eligibility criteria for students starting in September.

The irony is that working-class students are more likely to experience mental health problems than their wealthier peers, so we end up paying for our own support directly – and it’s costing us each £500 a year.

As a student from a low-income background, I know that it feels overwhelming to be surrounded by people who have had a better start in life – to whom your own experiences are alien. It’s easy to feel inadequate due to your financial situation and to feel like maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t be here after all.

Lower expectations of you held by society start to eat away at your self-esteem and sometimes you start to let it affect how you perform. My kind of people don’t go to university, you think. My kind of people can’t do well, you think.

Working-class students are often deterred from applying to university due to stereotypes and expectations. And for those of us who make it, we face the daunting prospect of supporting ourselves: we find ourselves spending a disproportionate amount of time thinking about how to get by; planning meals on revision cards; spending more hours working jobs than in classes; dividing our budgets by the week; cancelling plans which involve paying for buses, and by the time we know we can manage it’s time to go to sleep.

The budgets of working-class students work against them, hindering their chances in education and in life, and so many are also juggling university work with exhausting and demanding jobs, supporting dependants, mental and physical health issues and even the threat of homelessness.

The bursary has been a lifeline for many of us, but for others it isn’t enough. I have met far too many students who budget relentlessly and still end up buried deep in their overdraft. When it reaches that stage, living comfortably seems hopeless, and many students find themselves forced to drop out.

The university’s response to the bursary changes stating that ‘there is little evidence bursaries have any demonstrable effect’ is a shamefully pathetic excuse for a cruel attack on the most disadvantaged students.

We see the evidence surrounding us, and it’s the difference between our friends thriving academically and sleeping through classes to avoid needing food. It’s seeing them return happy after the occasional trip home instead of knowing they’re locked behind their bedroom doors. It’s a full kitchen cupboard versus an empty one.

This is a systematic reminder that those who hold the power are not interested in investing in our futures, and it is a disgusting reflection of the classist society in which we live. UEA needs to do more for us all, and different vulnerable groups shouldn’t have to wrestle for the same stale pot of money.

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Kasper Hassett

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ONE COMMENT ON THIS POST To “‘The bursary has been a lifeline for many of us, but for others it isn’t enough’”

  1. I graduated four years ago and attended UEA as a ‘middle income’ student. My mum is a primary school teacher and, at the time, we lived with my step father (a PCSO – not a great earning job), so when the student loan company calculated my maintenance loan, I only qualified for the lowest amount of loan (despite him not contributing any money to my university career other than paying the bills at home). But though I was classified as ‘middle income’, my mum couldn’t afford to give me a monthly allowance. I didn’t get a bursary or a grant, and ALL of my maintenance loan went on my accommodation (and most of the time didn’t even cover it). I didn’t go to university with any savings and I didn’t get financial help from other family members while I was there – other than for the odd book here and there.

    However, I managed to survive university – I worked 12 hours a week (a Wednesday evening and a Saturday – definitely more hours than my lecture, but nothing back breaking) – on around £250 a month. I was forward thinking and managed to secure the role before I started my first year. I also worked during the holidays back at home (probably around 25 hours a week) and saved up money to make sure I would have expendable cash for when I returned. I had to budget, yes, but I didn’t miss out on experiences.

    I would look around me and lots of the ‘lower income’ students were out spending their bursaries on clothes and festival tickets (and they didn’t have supplementary part-time jobs), while I had to be quite frugal with my money, that I earned. To me, at the time, that didn’t seem fair at all.

    So while I understand that bursaries and grants are a great help to many people, I don’t understand why people (even with these financial packages) are having to really scrape the pennies, unless maintenance loans have reduced too and rent has increased exponentially?

October 2021
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