How much hardship funding should international students get?

Took part in a cracking round table on student hardship organised by Universities Scotland, NUS Scotland and the Mental Health Foundation this morning.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

Positive actions will emerge shortly, but given conversations I’ve been having over the past month or so, I was particularly struck by the contributions from international students that were present – almost all of which focussed on costs that have turned out to be dramatically higher than they anticipated.

I can’t say this often enough – there is no legal bar on offering international students hardship funds.

And again – there is no legal bar on offering international students hardship funds.

It is true that international students are usually told that they have no “recourse” to public funds – the assumption is that they’ll have the money to fund their studies on entry.

But as UUKi and UKCISA point out at regular intervals – the UK’s immigration rules clearly state what is defined as public funds, and educational or hardship funding do not appear on that list.

And even if we’re vibing along with the spirit of the rules – hardship funding and schemes tend to be about the unexpected. And there’s plenty of that around. Or is there?

If I was rapidly expanding my international PGTs (like, it seems, almost the entirety of the sector), I would be carrying out analysis on four things when considering hardship funding.

First there’s numbers. It seems obvious to be that if there are more students, there should be commensurately more hardship funding.

Then there’s countries. The big property developers have all noticed (and undertaken quite sophisticated analysis on) the relative financial position and wealth of students arriving from different markets. Surely universities have done this too, to work out how close to the line and how often some students will get – if only to work out their tuition fee void and/or projected drop-out rate?

Third is currency fluctuations – are global events around those countries making it likely that the value of currency could fall suddenly, like when students need to eat, or pay the rent? I certainly wouldn’t be exchanging all my money into pounds right now, would you?

And then there’s costs – has the UK become suddenly more expensive than either the university, or the home office, warned them about? On both of those counts I’d hazard a yes, with a challenge to prove me wrong.

Once that “expect the unexpected” analysis was complete, I’d know how much of the extra income generated by international fees to allocate to hardship funding. But not until, surely?

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