University clarifies Hardship Fund spending

By Emma Pinckard

Durham University has responded to the Freedom of Information data received by Durham for Accessible Education, clarifying information behind the Hardship Fund statistics.

The University has acknowledged that it has less money to allocate towards the Fund than in previous years, partly due to the fact that it received an allocation from the government—the Access to Learning Fund—in both the 2012/13 and 2013/14 academic years.

It continued to explain that, “[b]ecause of the way funding from external bodies is accounted, the University was also able to carry forward some unspent funding from the previous year’s allocation and to spend loan repayments from previous years.

“In 2014/15 the University made £100,000 available to fund home undergraduate students in hardship. The University was also allowed to carry forward unspent funding from the 2013/14 Access to Learning Fund allocation, estimated at the start of the academic year to be £50,000.

“The University also made £75,000 available for home postgraduate and all overseas students in hardship.”

“In 2015/16 the University made £100,000 available to fund home undergraduate students with a household income of less than £42,875 in hardship via the Access Agreement. It also made £75,000 available to fund all other students in hardship.”

Durham has further clarified that the reason for the 55% decrease in support given to students over the past three years is due to the fact that “in 2012/13 exceptional funds were approved to support a cohort of international students who were experiencing major unexpected hardship,” and therefore it was “not a typical year.”

It has also highlighted that, although 31 grants were awarded, the University made a total of 113 awards in various other ways, listing Short-Term Loans, Bridging Loans, Discretionary Loans, and Long Vacation Loans as examples. As a result of this, it can be seen that “in 2015/16 there were 177 applications and 113 awards, so 63% of applications resulted in awards.”

Information on the Hardship Fund is made available online, and all applicants are given “detailed explanations of refusals,” including their “individual Calculation Sheets which determine how their income was compared with the University’s definition of the minimum level of expenditure for their personal circumstances (adjusted to take into account individual circumstances).”

Durham has confirmed that a part-time member of staff monitors and collects unpaid hardship loans, but explained that they also negotiate repayment plans so that funds can be “recycled to allow others to access the Hardship Loan fund.” The University claims that a number are still being repaid from 2004, whilst others are being repaid at a rate of only £1 per month.

It also explained that “the ‘loan book’ for hardship loans is in the region of £327,000 of loans issued, of which £270,000 is still outstanding (all interest free)”, and therefore “a value of £5,800 towards recovery—1.77%—is very small.”

The University has rebuked claims that students can be prevented from graduating if their Hardship Loan is unpaid. “Students are only prevented from attending their graduation ceremony if their tuition fees are not paid,” the University clarified.

It has also stated that “there is a difference between budget and expenditure. The expenditure in the Disability Support service is directly linked to student demand and individual support requirements, consequently it will fluctuate from year to year.”

Information can be found at www.durham.ac.uk/ student.finance/uhf.

Photograph: Venus Loi

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