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Scotland’s Colleges act to protect students from going hungry and cold this winter

Colleges in Scotland are setting out how they will help prevent thousands of students from going hungry and cold this winter.

In a new survey from Colleges Scotland, more than nine out of 10 colleges who responded have already put in place ‘warm space’ plans for students this winter, and into the spring, like libraries and study rooms.

Free breakfast clubs and, in some cases free lunches, will also be offered at most colleges, with 90% of colleges able to act as referrers to foodbanks.

Every college who responded reported that they are “concerned” the cost-of-living crisis could lead to rising drop out rates this academic year.

Every college is also “heavily” promoting the financial assistance which may be available through bursaries or Discretionary Funds, also known as the Hardship Fund, which any student can apply to.

Shona Struthers, Chief Executive of Colleges Scotland, said: “Colleges – despite their own very challenging budget cuts and rising bills – are going all out to put student support in place as it’s the right thing to do. Staying warm and having access to food and financial support is critical for learning and to help students complete their course.

“And, while the government has now announced plans to provide support on energy it won’t impact on the massive rises in other living expenses.”

“Some help on offer is very practical, with one college organising distribution of free winter coats donated by staff, and another offering school uniform assistance for the children of students. And every college is reviewing what more can be done to support learners in the coming months.

“Our students have already experienced incredible stresses as a result of Covid. It’s been really important that colleges have also provided vital mental health support to run alongside the financial and physical support we have offered in the face of the cost-of-living crisis.

“We want students to know their college is here to help wherever, whenever, and however we can.”

Lydia Rohmer, Principal at West Highland College UHI, and Lead Principal on student poverty for Colleges Scotland, said practical help for students is essential.

“Learning won’t happen if a student is stressed, worried about bills, or arriving hungry for their class – and the financial anxiety of some students is palpable at the moment. Whether it’s keeping students warm, providing food, or other practical means, colleges will stretch our resources as much as we can to help students cope.

“Everything we do as a college is about giving students every opportunity to enjoy a better future – it’s vital the cost-of-living crisis doesn’t overtake that chance.”

Earlier this year, and even before the cost-of-living and inflation crisis even took hold, the National Union of Students in Scotland found that a third of students (35%) have considered dropping out of their course due to financial difficulties, with 25% unable to pay their rent in full on one or more occasion. The NUS Scotland Broke report also found that around two thirds (64%) have experienced mental ill-health as a result of financial pressures with 60% of students worries or stressed about their finances “frequently” or “all the time”.

Colleges across the country have put in place schemes to help students. Edinburgh College has set up a Community Fridge at all four campus locations to redistribute food donated by local businesses. Dumfries & Galloway College has linked with a local recruitment agency to help students find suitable term time employment which fits around their studies. And New College Lanarkshire has established warm spaces for students and staff, are offering a free breakfast club, as well as targeted student advice.

CASE STUDY – City of Glasgow College

The Student Support and Wellbeing Team are supporting students through the cost-of-living crisis, including setting up a breakfast club and providing emergency support including same day payments which can be processed for students. Supermarket vouchers are available for vulnerable students and those who have maxed out their overdraft so bank payments aren’t swallowed up. Bus tokens are available for emergency travel situations. The Team provides support to students who have rent arrears with their Housing Associations to help them to reduce their debt. The college also offers a laptop loan scheme to support students who may be impacted by digital poverty.

CASE STUDY – West Lothian College

A washing machine and tumble dryer are part of the mitigations the college has put in place to help alleviate student poverty, alongside a free breakfast and lunch club which isn’t means tested in any way. Students have helped to design a space called Compass Point to make it easier to access financial help and support in a friendly environment. The college also operates The Trust Project (Trauma Responsive Unique Support Tailor-made), a wraparound service to support students who have, or have had, experience of trauma in their lives, which brings a no-shame approach for students who only have to talk about their circumstances once.

CASE STUDY – Forth Valley College

Over the summer, Forth Valley College has been working with third sector and three local authority partners to put the best student support available in place for students returning to campus. The college is looking at food and fuel poverty issues and can refer to local food banks. To enhance the financial help on offer to students, the college can make small amounts of cash available while applications for bursaries and the Hardship Fund are being made.

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