Colleges are resorting to food vouchers and emergency parcels with food and toiletries to help students who would otherwise have to make the choice between studying and feeding themselves.
An exclusive Tes Scotland survey, to which 23 out of Scotland’s 28 colleges responded, shows a number of institutions across the country issue food bank vouchers to students, while others offer emergency food packages or supermarket vouchers – or even offer a breakfast club for students struggling to make ends meet. Most colleges also have discretionary or hardship funds that they make available to those students most in need, according to the survey.
West Lothian College says that it is a distributor for the local food bank and issued eight vouchers in the eight weeks running up to the survey. Its student association also runs a breakfast club, which it says has helped achievement in class.
“For 30p, students can get either two slices of toast with butter or a pot of porridge with syrup,” says the college. “Poverty is a big issue for students and the college takes active steps to minimise the impact of low income for students and their families.”
Glasgow Clyde College says its student association has a welfare fund and among other things offers meal vouchers for students who have short-term issues regarding funding. Each faculty can also offer such funding.
Food bank vouchers
As well as issuing food bank vouchers to students, Ayrshire College says it can offer lunch vouchers to students to be used in the college refectories, in instances where students do not have money for lunch: “Our student services team also has petty cash available to buy public transport tickets for students, in emergencies.”
A spokesman for Edinburgh College says that, while there is not currently a food bank on any of its four campuses, a local food bank has approached the college about setting up a branch on campus, which would be available to members of the public as well as students. “We’re going to explore the viability of this with them,” says the spokesman.
Borders College says that while it has on occasion liaised with local food banks through its social work contacts to enable students in dire need, “more commonly our college welfare service provides lunch vouchers or emergency basic food packages to students who are struggling to feed themselves”.
Perth College also refers students to its local food banks, and keeps “emergency food packs” on campus. “They are provided by the food bank and can be given to students who are in immediate food crisis, for example, if a student presents on a Friday afternoon with no food for the forthcoming weekend,” says a spokesman for the college.
Meanwhile, Dundee and Angus College operates a food parcel scheme supported by students, staff and local business to provide parcels to any student who requires one. These, according to the college, contain food and other essentials, such as toiletries and sanitary products.
NUS Scotland students’ union president Luke Humberstone says that colleges should be commended for doing their best to support students suffering the effects of financial hardship – “but it’s simply unacceptable that any student is forced to rely on these measures in the first place”.
He adds: “This is just another sign that the student support system is broken and in need of reform. Students in further education have no entitlement to financial support and the support they do receive is a long way from covering the cost of living. In higher education, the poorest students are forced to take on the most debt.”
Humberstone says that a recent review into student support set out how the Scottish government could significantly improve support for the cost of living, adding. “We now hope to see these recommendations becoming a reality,” he says.
In November, Virgin Money chief executive Jayne-Anne Gadhia pointed out that 70 per cent of students at college or university have to supplement the financial support they receive. Some 14 per cent of these students do so with credit cards or other types of loans, including payday loans. She called for a minimum income for FE students, as well as access to loans.
A spokesman for the Scottish government says: “We want all students, particularly those from the poorest backgrounds, to get the support they need to stay in education. That is why we commissioned the independent review of student support, whose findings we are currently considering.
“We are also delivering record levels of financial support to students, with over £107 million in college bursaries, childcare and discretionary funds provided in the 2017-18 budget – a 32 per cent real-terms increase since 2006-07.
“And, in recognition of the importance of Scotland’s college sector, the 2018-19 draft Budget includes a 9.4 per cent real terms increase in overall college funding.”
John Kemp, interim chief executive for the Scottish Funding Council, says: “We are preparing for our in-year redistribution of student support funds and are confident we will be able to meet colleges’ requests for additional student support funding for 2017-18. This will ensure that the resources we have are placed where they are most needed in the system.”