Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 32

Memorandum from Manchester Metropolitan Students' Union (HE 148)

  I was privileged to attend the meeting of the Select Committee in Manchester at 12 noon on 6 February.

  I attach a brief resume of further points which affect student retention. I should be grateful if you could make this information available to the Committee.

1.  RUNNING OUT OF MONEY

  Budgeting is difficult on a low income. A significant number of students run out of money part-way through the term, sometimes with several weeks to go before the next loan/grant cheque. Emergency help is very limited. Students in this position may cease to attend their courses, because they cannot afford fares to college, study materials, and (if applicable) childminding fees.

  Student support is paid termly. This year at MMU, the first two terms' payments of student support (66 per cent of the annual amount) has to cover 78 per cent of the academic year. The majority of costs (accommodation and books) occur in the earlier part of the academic year, exacerbating the problem.

  Monthly payments of loans/grants would help students to budget.

2.  INSUFFICIENT INFORMATION FOR BUDGETING

  Hardship Fund payments are essential if many mature students and students with children are to cope. The size of the Hardship Fund award is not known until at least several weeks after the start of term. Students are thus not in a position to budget accurately for the year.

  Similarly any benefits entitlement may not be assessed until several months after the start of the academic year. Delays with housing benefit assessments have been particularly serious in the last 18 months.

3.  INCLUSION OF STUDENT LOAN IN BENEFITS ASSESSMENTS

  The majority of the student loan is counted as income for means tested benefits. This causes severe loss of morale and financial hardship to students who are eligible to claim benefits. It also gives rise to discord with students' partners, who may lose their own benefits.

4.  LACK OF CO-ORDINATION BETWEEN BENEFITS AND STUDENT SUPPORT LEGISLATION

  This was particularly acute in late 1999, when changes to the treatment of student income for benefits assessments were announced several weeks after the start of the academic year. These changes, coupled with delays in housing benefit assessment, led to serious rent arrears for many students and threatened eviction. Some students felt that they could no longer afford to study and left their courses. Those who remained reported that their studies were disrupted by worry and time spent sorting out the problems.

5.  ACADEMIC SUPPORT

  Students who come from a protective environment of school or college comment that they are left to fend for themselves at university. Staff are often too overworked to give individual attention to students who need extra help or reassurance.

6.  WELFARE SUPPORT

  Students from non-traditional backgrounds generally require more welfare support. Welfare provision is often inadequate to support students' needs. At MMU, the welfare service is focused almost entirely at the Students Union where the Student Advice Centre has four staff to serve 31,000 students.

7.  EXPENSIVE COURSES

  The current Student Support system fails to recognise that some courses have higher study costs than others. For instance, the Fashion Design course requires expenditure on art materials, materials for the final collection (perhaps £750—£1,000) and compulsory study trips (eg to New York). The Hardship Fund cannot meet all these extra costs.

Manchester Metropolitan Students' Union

February 2001


 
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