Manchester offers £2k cost of living bursary but a student on highest loan gets just £300

‘I’ve got two regular part time jobs as well as occasional shift work and still struggle to make ends meet’

A Univeristy of Manchester student who receives the highest possible maintenance loan as their household falls into the lowest income bracket has received £300 from the university’s Cost of Living Support Fund, despite the bursary allegedly offering up to £2,000.

The student, who wishes to remain anonymous, works two part time jobs as well as intermittent shift work in hospitality. Their household income is below £25,000 a year and they receive no financial support from their single parent family.

And yet, the university has awarded them 15 per cent of the maximum fund and told them they can’t appeal this decision because the uni is too busy dealing with other people’s applications.

All this begs the question, what on earth does the Univeristy of Manchester expect your situation to be to possibly be offered the £2,000 figure? Well, we can’t tell you. A spokesperson for the university told The Manchester Tab it would not comment on individual cases.

The Cost of Living Support Fund was set up this year thanks to donations from university alumni and friends who “want to ensure that no University of Manchester student is left struggling”. On its website, the university stresses it’s open to all students who are “experiencing unforeseen circumstances” or “unexpected financial hardship”.

The university goes on to define examples of financial hardship that could allow a student to qualify for the bursary. They are: relying on part time work, or struggling to find sufficient part time work to supplement your living costs; a student whose sponsors have withdrawn funding or where payments are delayed; or an international student struggling with transferring money from abroad. The university adds students may have another reason for their financial hardship and exclaim: “WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU.”

The bursary is means tested, which means how much you receive is based on your income and how much money you already have in your bank account, and as such the university asks students for three months worth of bank statements when assessing students’ claims.

“My application showed all my transactions in the last three months, and I justified every payment over £50,” the third year student told The Manchester Tab. “This was an incredibly intrusive process compared to other universities’ hardship funds.”

They explained they had made one purchase over £50 last term which wasn’t an essential item – £60 camping equipment which they had bought as a Christmas present to themselves. “Otherwise my spending was far under the average for a student in Manchester,” they added.

“My family does not financially support me, and my single mother household is in the lowest income bracket. I’ve got two part time jobs as well as occasional flexible shifts in hospitality, and still struggle to make ends meet. I explained all this in my application, and proved that because my old landlord still owes me my deposit – the appeals process has taken a long time – my overdraft was not enough to pay my next instalment of rent,” the student said.

Documents from Student Finance England seen by The Manchester Tab shows the student receives a maintenance loan of £9,179. This loan is the highest amount given to final year university students studying outside of London.

The student’s financial situation is so precarious they say they’ve considered suspending their studies because of the impact it’s having on their mental health.

A spokesperson for the University of Manchester said: “We understand this is a difficult time for students as well as the general population. To help students in need our Cost of Living Support Fund is open all year long, it is non-repayable and can help students overcome food insecurity, support them with utility bills, and address any other issues arising from financial hardship. The overall budget for this fund is not capped and so provision will always be available for students unable to afford essential living costs. The fund is financially assessed by means testing, including consideration of any bursary funding and other sources of income, and any amount that might be awarded is decided on this basis. We cannot comment on individual cases.

“The maximum possible award is up to £2,000, with each case being considered individually on its merits which necessarily includes looking at a student’s expenditure, this is carried out sensitively and confidentially. In some cases no award or a reduced award is made because the assessment highlights non-essential spend (for example, overseas trips) or existing savings. All student applications to the fund are considered equally using the same criteria within a set process and we have complete confidence that these assessments are fair and consistent.

“We also share concerns with students that the recent increase in maintenance loans falls far short of keeping pace with inflation. The situation has of course been exacerbated by the cost of living situation and we are advocating strongly on behalf of our students to see this position change.

“As well as the Living cost Support Fund we have provided special Cost of Living payments to students recently in recognition of the pressures many are facing. Full time students received £170 and part time students received £85; this totals a £9m support package. This was agreed by working closely with the Students’ Union and their representatives, we continue to meet regularly.

“In addition to direct financial support we have ended library fines and free eBooks have been provided. We have also made sure free access to hot water, microwaves and warm spaces is available on campus, as well as reducing food and drink prices. The SU are supporting societies to host events via their Cosy Nights In scheme and by working with the Students’ Union, the University is providing more jobs for students on campus, easier and increased access to short-term emergency financial assistance, and funding a new Money Advisor post to be created in the Students’ Union.”

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