The new lockdown announced by the Scottish Govenment adds more strain to what has already been a tough academic year for students. We have written to the University to ask for some further assistance for students. Many students will find themselves in financial difficulties caused by the new restrictions, so your Elected Officers are asking for the University to:
1. Provide more hardship funds to international students.
2. Halt an increase in tuition fees and to offer some fees remission.
3. End the current approach of blocking students when they are late with payments.
4. Do more to address digital poverty.
We will keep you updated on any response we get to the above requests.
The letter can be read in full below:
Many ENU students, especially international students, are in financial crisis. We know from our ENSA Advice Team, who are making regular referrals to food banks, that some do not even have enough food to eat. As President of the study body and with the full support of the Student Executive Team, I call on ENU to provide a better service to these students by –
• providing more hardship funding, including ring-fenced funding for international students
• halting an increase in fees and offering some fees remission
• ending the current approach of blocking students when they are late with payments
• doing more to address digital poverty
In response to the pandemic, Edinburgh Napier University has taken a blended approach to learning and teaching. As teaching is now mostly online, students who were relying on University resources to study are disappointed and do not feel they are receiving value for money or the student experience they expected. Postgraduate students are especially affected by this as they have only a short time, perhaps only a year, to experience the University atmosphere. They claim that the tuition fees are not justified for online learning and the fees increase is especially unjustified. There should be no increase to fees this year for those students who had already matriculated.
Digital poverty also continues to be a major problem for students. The laptop loan scheme is a start but it is not working properly. Students are not able to have laptops for a long enough period of time for them to complete work and students are being fined when they return tech late. The laptop scheme needs to be reviewed immediately.
I am very concerned for international students. They travel leaving behind friends and family and pay huge tuition fees to gain an international experience. Sadly, they have encountered the realities of student life during COVID-19: isolation, anxiety, and financial hardship. Many also discovered that they have no face to face teaching and limited access to campus facilities. The ENSA Advice Team has had to refer many international students to food banks as they have not been able to obtain part time jobs which means that they do not have enough money to buy food. There needs to be ring-fenced hardship funding for these students.
Some students were denied access to their student accounts when there was a delay in paying their tuition fees. Even those students who managed to sort out their fees were penalised as when they were blocked they missed their classes and assessment deadlines. Tutors refused to accept assessments as it was past the deadline. This approach is not acceptable and needs to be changed.
Students are asking where their fees are going, how the University is using them. They would like to see a breakdown like the one below. I do not think this is an unreasonable request.
The Executive Team and I look forward to hearing how you will address these issues.
Ankit Duggal, President
Student Executive Team Members
Update - Response from the University:
Providing more hardship funding, including ring-fenced funding for international students
The University has two financial hardship funds available to international students, the first is ring-fenced for international and EU students:
- The International and EU Crisis Fund is a specific fund for international and EU students to provide short-term financial support for students experiencing unexpected financial difficulty.
- ENCourage Scholarship is available to all current students, including international and EU students. Applications are assessed on financial hardship and funding awards are to support living costs.
In 2019/20 we made 345 individual awards to international and EU students in 2019/20 totalling c£190K. To date in 2020/21 we have made 61 awards to international and EU students totalling £61,000. The University keeps the expenditure from the hardship funds constantly under review and will seek to secure alternative sources of funding as required.
There are challenges in terms of the allocation of our hardship funding, namely the large numbers of applications we are receiving from international students that are either incomplete, or submitted using a standard template that is not personalised to the student’s individual circumstances.
* Students applying to hardship funds are recommended to contact ENSA Advice who can help with their application - call 0131 229 8791 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. *
Halting an increase in fees and offering some fees remission
In line with other higher education institutions the University cannot reimburse tuition fees in part or in full. We have taken every possible measure to make sure the value of our degrees remains true today and in the future, and ensured that all programme learning outcomes are met irrespective of whether teaching is face to face or online. Since the start of the pandemic, we have invested significantly in offering the best possible digital learning experience. We have also put in place additional Covid-19 safety measures on our campuses, as well as increasing mental wellbeing, information services and other support for our students.
Tuition fee increases are applied from at the start of each academic year and are agreed at least 14 months in advance in order to ensure that tuition fees can be clearly advertised to new and existing students.
Ending the current approach of blocking students when they are late with payments
If a student is experiencing difficulties making a fee payment we would advise them to contact the Finance Team in the first instance to discuss their circumstances. In the vast majority of cases we have been able to work with students to put in place alternative payment arrangements before any sanctions are applied, which has kept the number of students with outstanding fee payments to relatively small numbers across the University. We have recently reviewed the communications that students receive if they miss a payment, and we will introduce a phone call to international students by the Visa and International Support Team early on in the process to offer students advice and guidance on any difficulties they are experiencing.
Doing more to address digital poverty
Our laptop loan service is available to all students year-round 24 hours a day 7 days a week (apart from University Holidays). Laptops are available for students to borrow from self-service lockers at the Jack Kilby Computing Centre (JKCC), Merchiston library, Craiglockhart library, Sighthill (LRC2) and now Banfield Student Accommodation. The Laptop loan period has been extended from 7 to 14 days (students who are required to self-isolate can contact Information Services to extend the loan period further).
Prior to Christmas the University also arranged for students to obtain high quality equipment on a discounted hire purchase agreement over the course of their studies. This specific scheme has been hampered by supply issues and we have suspended until resolved. As well as addressing hardware issues, we are currently exploring a scheme to make very heavily discounted dongles available to all students on a monthly payment plan. This will address connectivity issues giving fast and reliable access to computer networks. Assuming we can resolve administrative issues, we aim to roll this out over the next few weeks.
Our campuses are of course remaining open to students who do not have an appropriate place to study at home or access to high speed internet. Study space and computer facilities are available to book through the Resource Booker.