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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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