As part of our commitment to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion, and helping make access to education as easy as possible for anyone who wishes to learn, Arden University recently launched its Hardship Fund, designed to help students alleviate the financial pressures that accompany education.
We recently caught up with Carly Foster, Head of Student Success at Arden University, to find out everything you need to know about the Hardship Fund, as well as Financial Service Blackbullion. Read below to find out about eligibility, the application process, and what sort of things the fund has been designed to help with.
What is Arden’s hardship fund? And why was it set up?
Arden's Hardship Fund looks to support students who are suffering from financial poverty. We're in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis at the moment, and we recognise that students are often bearing the brunt of that due to limited employability options when they're studying. We don't want financial barriers to be a hindrance to student success, so the hardship one was set up to put in structured consistent support, to make sure that we've got a mechanism to assess hardship, to help students with skills like budgeting and being able to manage their own finances, and also to help where, through no fault of their own, students find themselves in hardship.
The idea is, that by helping out, we see improved levels of continuation and avoid seeing students drop out purely because of the financial pressures of going to university.
What sort of expenses does the fund cover?
There are a few different aspects of the fund.
One of them has a specific SEN focus, so specific educational needs, which covers things like that the normal DSC, the normal, Disability Student allowance wouldn't cover.
We also have a digital form that specifically looks at supporting students gain access to laptops and digital technologies, and also the internet as well, because obviously internet bills are on the rise along with everything else.
Then the main hardship fund looks to cover things like energy bills, rent, food bills, and transport costs.
Every case is assessed on a case-by-case basis though. So, it's not like we just have set tariffs, it's really about understanding what that particular student needs and then develop in a package to support that student.
How does the process work?
Students can make an application online via blackbullion, which also has other self-help tools in there – things like articles about cryptocurrencies and other things that are trending, and in student finances.
As part of that application, they will be asked to upload a series of evidence documentation. Things like bank statements, evidence of any savings, evidence of any sort of one-off events that have caused the hardship. For instance, the unforeseen cost of a car breaking down can put a student at a disadvantage.
Then our trained welfare advisors will use that documentation to calculate the total of essential expenditures, so things like food and bills, versus the total non-essential expenditures and work out how could we really help them.
It can take a couple of weeks to complete that whole process, but it's obviously quicker, the more evidence the student provides at the beginning. I think what people sometimes don't realise is that when we ask for bank statements, it's not just for the current account, if we can see on the current account that the student is making payments regularly to another bank account in their name, we also need to see that bank account as well.
Sometimes it can be a lot of toing and froing getting to see the full student’s picture, including any ISAs, savings, or second current accounts. We aim to have a fairly quick turnaround time between the initial application and the awards been available though.
Is the fund available to all students?
There are a few things to note in terms of eligibility. The hardship fund is only available to UK students. But we do have something similar for students at the Berlin campus. The student, obviously, also needs to be engaged with Arden, as well. So, we make sure that the student is on track, that they’re submitting and engaging with the course, and that they have passed their milestones.
Is there a threshold for assessment? What might financial hardship for a student look like?
The fund is there for students struggling to make ends meet. So, if they're having to make fundamental decisions in terms of the engagement with that course, for instance, if they couldn't physically afford to come into campus to study, because they were having to make decisions about the cost of a bus, compared to the cost of feeding their children or feeding themselves, then that would mean they’re in hardship.
There's no threshold, it's not as clear cut as that, it really does just depend on the student. But it tends to be evident where the income is less than the outgoings, and that's on a negative trajectory.
Alongside the fund, students also have access to Blackbullion. What services does Blackbullion offer students that help them with their finances?
So it has a lot of self-help articles and budgeting tools. Often, students are drawn into quick wins, such as cryptocurrency/ Bitcoin, and see that as a route to sustainable income, even if they don’t fully understand it.
So, Blackbullion offers research into things like that, and they often hold student focus groups, which helps them but also helps us understand more about how students are struggling financially and what kind of things they want to know.
It's got bootcamps as well, where students can sign up and engage for a week – set some goals, set saving targets, and work towards that. And then we can also assign students courses that we think they would particularly benefit from. So it's more than just an application tool. It's a form of self-help service.
Why do you think it's so important for Arden specifically to offer this service?
Arden has a mission to support widening participation agendas. What we often see is that Arden students are not your typical students like the ones portrayed in the media. Our students rarely have bank of mom and dad to support them, and oftentimes they are mom and dad.
Arden has a mission to try and drive higher education for all, and that comes with natural challenges we need to acknowledge and proactively support.
I think another reason why it's so important for Arden is because of how prevalent we are in London, Birmingham, and Manchester - really big cities where the cost of living is potentially more than you would see elsewhere.
Generally, the sector should be doing more to remove financial barriers to education, which have been exacerbated over the last 10 years, by tuition fees and huge amounts of debt. But obviously, everybody's entitled to live comfortably, and to live safely as well. And it's about the safety of students as well as their ability to study for a degree.