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Better funding announced for estranged students, BME researchers, taught postgrads and student parents and carers

During the autumn term, I worked with UCL Student Funding in developing and lobbying for a number of proposals to improve maintenance support available to students - and am happy to say that a number have now been incorporated into the university’s newly approved 2018-2023 five-year strategy.

Work has already begun on identifying financial support for care-leavers and those who have been estranged from their families. Whether this will be through general maintenance support or more specific funding (such as summer accommodation bursaries) is currently being explored in conjunction with relevant charities, including Stand Alone. This is a particularly exciting announcement, and will hopefully go a long way to supporting students who currently fall through the cracks of Student Finance and its rigorous demands for proof of estrangement.

In addition, a number of other objectives due to be pursued over the next five years include:

  • Scholarships for postgraduate research students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds for UK domiciled students. This is in recognition of the low percentage both of PhD students from BME backgrounds as against other levels of study, as throughout academia as a whole, at UCL;

  • The introduction of new maintenance bursaries for postgraduate taught students, in order to complement the existing loans offered by the government. This is something I have been pushing for for well over a year - ever since the university’s long-abandoned PGT Review in 2016, in which a recommendation had been won but then ignored - and so it’s great to see a serious commitment in the new strategy;

  • To review support currently offered for student parents and carers, who make up around nine percent of the student population here at UCL. Evidence of how such financial support has been used to subsidise care and childcare costs across the sector will be looked out; certainly it remains the students’ union’s position that bursaries would be a vital way of supporting access needs from this demographic, particularly given the very limited number of places currently available to students through the Day Nursery.

It would naturally be remiss of me not to restate the students’ union position in calling for universal living grants, and our work nationally to campaign for it in particular with the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, of which I’m a member; UCL should not need to provide bursary support, and in fact all students should be entitled to fully-funded maintenance during their time here.

The situation has been worsened over the past few years by actions taken nationally through the Office For Fair Access, by which all universities currently need to have their access agreements approved; specifically, there has been a push to move resources away from bursary support and towards widening participation funding to increase applications from low-income backgrounds.

This has meant a cut in centrally-resourced bursary provision here at UCL, meaning that further financial support - such as those outlined above - cannot come from tuition fees, but from external sources such as alumni donations. 

That said, within this context, these steps represents a positive step forward for so long as we do not have properly resourced free education in this country - and I’ve requested that the students’ union be involved in the medium-term to work on the implementation of these proposals.