Hardship bursaries inaccessible, say students

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 Students who face financial hardship are not applying for college bursaries because they are put off by complicated application forms or assume they will not be eligible, a Cherwell investigation has revealed. Despite efforts by all colleges to help students in financial difficulties, undergraduates continue to report cases of severe hardship, claiming they are not made sufficiently aware of the grants that colleges have to support them.A student from St Edmund Hall, who wished to remain anonymous, said that she had been forced to live on £10 for four weeks and to rely on assistance from close friends because she was unaware of the support available. She said, “I have been in difficulty during my time here. It changes from week to week but at one point I had to get by on ten pounds for four weeks … I have a really close group of friends and we help each other out when one of us can’t pay for things. “I didn’t know about the college hardship bursaries until the bursar told me about them. It was not clear how I was supposed to get one. I did not know where to go or what to do,” she said.A student from Merton, who also asked not to be named, was aware of the financial assistance offered by his college, but said he felt that relying on the support would deprive him of independence.He said, “I don’t get funding from college, but am fairly sure I qualify for it. I’ve been holding off on applying in case of an ‘emergency’ and also out of pride – getting a private loan is ridiculously expensive… but I like the sense of independence. That said, the constraints of a private loan are a funny kind of independence.”He added, “I worked during the holidays last year, but found that it was a serious strain on my studies and my energy and also that I didn’t earn enough to lead a normal [and] comfortable life (financially).”All students who apply to the university are considered for an Oxford Opportunity bursary, a grant given by the central university body to students from lower-income backgrounds. In addition, most colleges offer hardship bursaries for any students who fall into unexpected financial difficulties.But Martin McCluskey, OUSU president, said the whole system needed to be made more transparent.“The University offers hardship funds, like the Access to Learning fund, but a lot of people don’t know they exist. They are not widely publicised. “Something needs to be done to make students more aware of the opportunities available for financial assistance” he added.Students have also said they feel discouraged from applying for hardship grants because of complicated application forms and the stigma that they will be seen as the poorest.Martin McCluskey explained, “At the college level there is a lot of variation. Sometimes students are put off because of the language attached to support funds … The name ‘Hardship bursary’ makes it sound like the funds are only for people who are really scraping the barrel, where as ‘financial assistance’ makes it seem more accessible.”A spokesperson for Oxford made the following statement:“The University and its colleges are committed to supporting stu dents wherever possible. It is in everybody’s interest to publicise available support as widely as possible. It is down to the colleges to adopt the system that works best for them in their individual environment.”by Michael Sweeney

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