Did the Government Forget Students When Establishing Funding Schemes During the Pandemic?

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By Caitlin Macdonald

As a student living away from home my first goal was to find a job so I could support myself, not have to worry about money and be able to not be financially dependent. However, after moving to Glasgow in September 2020 and soon realising that amidst the pandemic there were in fact no jobs and this plan was quickly changed.

There was a lot of changes to student life this year, classes went online, it was harder to make and keep connections within your course and getting a job was a close to impossible task. When moving away from home to study at University or College one of the most important things you gain is your independence, however there’s only so much you can do without a job, especially when your SAAS pays for student accommodation or a flat, which is another thing that a job is very important to a student for, deposits and rent on different flats throughout their uni or college years.

Lucy Angus, a second-year student at Glasgow Caledonian studying Biomedical Science agreed that being unable to get a job whilst living in Glasgow has in fact affected her and made this year a struggle: “SAAS does not cover all costs, (rent, food and necessities). I use SAAS to pay my rent but don’t have enough left over for food for the whole month and therefore I end up having to get help from my parents. A job would allow me to be completely independent. I have applied for over 30 jobs since starting 2nd year at uni in September 2020 and have only had one interview, for which I was unsuccessful. I understand businesses just simply cannot afford to bring on new people at the moment, and therefore believe the government should be aiding us in some way”. First year Glasgow Caledonian Biomedical Science student Jenny Weir also said: “If my parents didn’t pay for my accommodation, I wouldn’t be able to afford to pay for it as well as buying food and other essentials”. Erin McIntosh, English literature and film student then agreed: “I had hoped that when I moved, I would be able to get a part-time job so that I could save up enough money for next year (this summer) to start renting a flat and be able to enjoy my summer. Back in September, I was also hoping to get a job so that I could meet new people because I knew I wouldn’t be on campus and was worried I’d not make many friends”. She continued with the fact that although she does not struggle to make ends meet at the moment in a few months’ time if she still does not have a job, she most likely will find herself in that situation.

Luckily for some students they can get financial help from family members. Lucy said: “My family support me most months with a little of my funds. However, I am extremely lucky to have this available and some students may not get this opportunity if for example their parents are not in secure jobs due to the pandemic or are caring for more of their children at home and spending more money on food, heating, electricity etc”. As Lucy said, for many students, financial help from home just is not possible, however relying on a job to help stay afloat at the moment will put many students in stressful and bad financial situations. Even though many places were open when students first flocked to their new home in September 2020 for the academic year and many could’ve secured a job then, now with all of the UK in lockdown unless they managed to get a job in a supermarket there is a very low chance that they will be working.

With all of the schemes that have been put in place to help places of employment, there has still been no help from the government for the students that can’t afford to live due to these employment opportunities being gone. When asked if they thought the government have done enough to help students through these hard times second year Social Sciences student at Glasgow Caledonian Holly Saunders said: “In situations like this, university students have very much been neglected by the government. No support has been offered and students are still expected to pay accommodation fees even if they are not living there. In my opinion the government has not done anything to help out students, quite the contrary, they’re blaming students”. Lucy continued with: “I believe that accommodations should reimburse students for the months they are not in their accommodation due to government guidelines, and for those students with private lets, the governments should be providing funds directly for the same reason. She also added “I have not been informed of any way the government is actively trying to help”. The topic of student accommodation is one that is causing a lot of uproar, many felt as though they should not have been getting charged for a flat that they had been told by the government to stay away from. This adds on to the financial stress that already looms over many students heads as they will not be able to work and yet they still have to pay an astronomical amount for a flat they cannot live in. Jenny agreed with this and said: “I believe the government should be giving students some help for example by reducing fees. I do not know of any ways the government is trying to help us”. First year student Erin added: “I think the government’s response to supporting students during the pandemic so far has been quite poor. I know that some universities have provided students with a month’s rent rebate to ease financial hardship after tier 4 travel restrictions were put in place from Boxing Day though this isn’t mandatory and so many students in uni halls or private accommodation will still be struggling to pay rent. I know the government provided SAAS with an extra £5m to be given to students who are struggling financially but there seemed to be little guidance or information about who qualifies for that extra financial support and how they can access it. Other than that, I haven’t heard of any other way the government is actively trying to support students”.

We are now reaching the end of the academic year and students are calling on the government to prolongate student funding throughout the summer months as some still need to pay rent and finding a job, although it might be easier as places are starting to open, is still close to impossible.

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