Covid-19: Only half of hardship requests successful

EXCLUSIVE: The Department for Education awarded colleges an extra £413,303 in hardship funding – less than half of £886,847 requested
27th August 2020, 4:08pm

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Covid-19: Only half of hardship requests successful

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/covid-19-only-half-hardship-requests-successful
Covid-19: Dfe Awards Less Than Half Of Requested Hardship Funding

The Department for Education awarded less than half of the extra hardship money requested by colleges trying to help learners through lockdown, Tes can reveal. 

According to the response to a Freedom of Information request submitted by Tes, 16 colleges asked for extra hardship funding from the DfE to help support their students throughout the coronavirus pandemic with necessities such as devices to allow them to access online learning. In total, £886,847 was requested - however, only £413,303 was awarded, 54 per cent less than needed. 

Guidance on the DfE’s website first published in April advises that providers use their 16 to 19 bursary fund “to provide necessary equipment to students” who do not have a suitable device to access college provision remotely. 

It goes on to add: “Where providers can evidence that they do not have sufficient bursary funds available to support disadvantaged students, either because they are fully committed or fully spent - ESFA is operating a business case process that will assess requests for additional funding, where appropriate, for devices and/or internet connectivity.” 


Student support: Colleges need an extra £300,000 each

More: College group calls for £250K in donations for laptops

Background: Covid catch-up funds won’t reach all who need support


An average of £300,000 extra

In July, an Association of Colleges survey highlighted the extent to which colleges were struggling to fund the extra support students needed. It found that colleges required, on average, an additional £300,000 each to support their students through the hardship caused by the pandemic. 

The survey also found that over 85 per cent of colleges had evidence of increased student hardship, and 90 per cent reported that their bursary and hardship funds were under more pressure as a result of Covid-19. 

Kirsti Lord, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that colleges had been limited in the support they could provide for students.

She said:  “Initial feedback from colleges applying for additional bursary funds, particularly to provide IT equipment was that the process was bureaucratic, which was off-putting to others, application numbers have been low. Of those that did apply we know that some were unsuccessful due to existing bursary funds still being available (even if earmarked for other support) and applications from colleges where the financial health was deemed as too good were rejected. 

“This has limited what some colleges have been able to purchase for their students, although many have accessed other college funds to provide equipment for students.  When combined with the issues that colleges faced at the time around being able to access and order IT equipment in good time or at all, the impact of the bursary fund for students without access to IT or an internet connection has been uneven in the sector.”

Fundraising for support

Last month, Capital City College Group (CCCG), asked for £250,000 in donations so that they could provide laptops to disadvantaged learners. The college was awarded an extra £127,523 under the bursary fund. 

At the time, CCCG said that thousands of its students were unable to participate in online education due to lack of resources. It said that two-thirds of its 29,000 students are from disadvantaged backgrounds and many only have shared access to computers at home. More than a quarter have to access lessons and do coursework on their mobile phone while others have no technology at all. 

Roy O’Shaughnessy, chief executive of CCCG, said the lack of funding was “disappointing” and that the sector “cannot rely on the government to meet all its needs.”

He said: “We know that if future lockdowns force colleges to close again and deliver more lessons online, students without the right computer equipment face having to try and learn using a mobile phone, or spending money that they can ill afford paying for extra data.

“We took matters into our own hands and have already provided more than £186,000 to help 577 of our students purchase laptops and access to the internet. Having a laptop has helped them learn, carry out research and finish coursework and assignments, and has given them the freedom to learn when they want to.

“We’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far, but we know that there are many more students who need our help. With government funding limited and even more disadvantaged Londoners enrolling with us now, we know we will need many more computers to support their education.” 

“The government have failed”

University and College Union general secretary Jo Grady said: “The minimum the government can do is meet requests from hardship funds.”

She added: “Students from less affluent households were hardest hit by lockdown and least likely to be able to access the equipment needed to continue their studies remotely. From free school meals to exam results, this looks like a government that has to be shamed into doing anything to help those who struggle the most. Staff in our overstretched colleges are doing all they can to support students, the minimum the government can do is meet requests from hardship funds.”

NUS president Larissa Kennedy said that the problems were likely to get worse next year: “We have long warned that students need greater financial support in light of the difficulties they are experiencing due to Covid-19, and it is incredibly disappointing that the government have not listened to these concerns. These figures make clear that colleges need more hardship funding to support their students, yet the government have failed to meet this need. 

“This issue is likely to be exacerbated next year, as many students have been unable to find employment over the summer months. We hope the government will finally listen to these calls and provide more hardship funding for FE students.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “No student should fall behind as a result of coronavirus. That’s why we have provided a range of support to ensure students get the support they deserve during this unprecedented time.

“We allocate bursary funds to all 16-19 providers to help make sure their disadvantaged students get the support they need including IT devices, travel and books. We have also provided top-up funding for providers to help meet the additional costs arising during Covid-19.

“On top of this, we have provided extra funding for FE institutions so they can continue to provide meals to eligible students during the 2020 summer holidays.”

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