On 3 November, 2022 King’s College London emailed a newsletter to students which announced the new £3 million living fund package to support students who are struggling financially. Business Correspondent Tamara Kormornick interviewed students on campus to gather opinions on the package and the degree of support it provides for KCL students.
The additional funding measures have garnered a mixed reaction among students amidst rising living costs. The measures include a one-off bursary payment, an expansion of the Student Hardship Fund and subsidised meals in selected university cafes.
The living fund measures are a response to record high levels of inflation amidst the looming global recession and rising energy costs due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As part of the financial package, the university has allocated £1 million to further support students who receive bursaries. This one-off payment is calculated as ten percent of a student’s total bursary for the year and is designed to bridge the gap over the winter break.
Alex, a second year English student, receives the maximum bursary from the King’s Living Bursary and is due to receive the one-off payment in December. He told Roar: “The last bursary payment came through in November and the extra amount only comes in December, which is quite late. It’s a one off payment so it doesn’t cover too much. [But] it should get me through to the next bursary payment in January, I think.”
Alex wasn’t aware of the extra funding until very recently and thinks that the university’s response to the crisis is unclear.
“I think there could be more clarity to the funding processes. It depends how the university wants to approach (the cost of living crisis) and whether they want to help everybody, or students on bursaries, or those that live in London.”
On October 1, government energy regulator Ofgem announced an 80 percent increase in the price of wholesale energy since 2021. In addition, the Office of National Statistics states that the price of consumer goods has risen almost ten percent in the last twelve months. These rises have heavily impacted people across the UK and many of the students Roar spoke to have been on a tight budget as a result of price hikes. Rob, a second year Classics student, is also a recipient of the King’s Living Bursary and has taken out the maximum student loan.
“It is pretty expensive at the moment, energy bills and food particularly. There’s not a lot of money to spend on anything disposable, it’s a case of getting through. I do have a weekly budget and that’s all I can spend.”
Whilst he appreciates the help, Rob acknowledges the gaps in KCL’s response to the current crisis: “There are a lot of outside pressures for the university and it seems like a cash flow problem. The hardship funds are useful if you are in that lowest bracket, but now it seems like there are a lot more people below that threshold and I don’t see things changing in regards to how the university approaches people.”
Students who don’t qualify for a bursary can apply for a Hardship Fund. The fund has had a £750,000 cash injection to award undergraduate students grants of £100 – £4000 to help with living costs.
Daisy is a second year Politics student who saw the newsletter in her inbox and tried to apply for the Hardship Fund. She is struggling financially since moving to privately rented accommodation and has since taken on part-time work as a waitress in a local pub to help bridge the gap. She hit a hurdle at the beginning of the process, as the application requires annotated bank statements.
“They wanted me to show three months worth of bank statements with each expense over £100 itemised but I had only just moved in and didn’t have three months of expenses to show,” she told Roar. She was also encouraged to take a financial education class before applying for the loan. “The process is long and arduous and seems to work on the assumption that students spend irresponsibly” she added.
As a result of the lengthy application process and bank statement requirements, Daisy has not yet applied for the Hardship Fund.
Professor Adam Fagan, Vice President (Education and Student Success) says the living fund package is designed to help students who are concerned about the rising costs of living. “We encourage any student who is worried about money – whether that’s paying household bills, affording travel expenses, or understanding the financial assistance available – to reach out for support,” he said in a statement.
As part of the recent measures, there has also been an expansion of the International Hardship Fund which awards up to £6000 for eligible students.
Anaya, a first year Political Economy student, is feeling the pinch: “The accommodation prices are skyrocketing. Grocery prices are high too, although I’m from Singapore so it is relatively cheaper.”
Not all students are aware of the university’s recent measures as the newsletter has been the only mass communication from the university. At the time of the interview with Roar, Anaya was not aware that she could be now be eligible for a grant:
“I didn’t know international students could get funding. It’s hard to get because there are a lot of limitations like background and parents income. It would be nice to have some help but I get that there are students who might need it more.”
In addition to grants, KCL has allocated £750,00o to subsidise food at six eateries across the university campuses. Students can now pick up a porridge, reduced from £1.50 to 50p and a jacket potato with beans and salad, reduced from £4.25 to £1.50 at multiple locations. The discounted offers can be found at Chapters (Strand), King’s Kitchen (Strand), Bytes Restaurant (Waterloo), Henri’s Deli (Guy’s), WEC Restaurant (Denmark Hill) and the IoPPN Restaurant (Denmark Hill).
According to the Office of National Statistics, food and non-alcoholic beverages prices have risen 13.1 percent in the past year and are currently at the highest rate since August 2008. Rob, who relies on his bursary to cover living costs, was not aware of the new cut-price meal options: “I didn’t know about the cheaper meals. Breakfasts and lunches here are really expensive, so I will definitely look into that.”
The university has allocated an additional £500,000 as a contingency fund to provide additional support over the next few months.
If you are a KCL student who struggling financially, visit the university’s new dedicated cost of living webpage for information on the living fund, grants, and money-saving tips and tools.