More than 1 in 4 universities operate a food bank, research reveals

Posted: 18 September 2023 | | No comments yet

According to latest research, more than a quarter of universities in the UK are operating a food bank for students amid the cost-of-living crisis.

university students

New research has found that more than a quarter of universities in the UK are operating a food bank to support students amid the cost-of-living crisis.

What’s more the study, carried out by the Higher Education Policy Institute, found that one in 10 universities are distributing food vouchers to students.

With the effects of food inflation and the cost-of-living crisis impacting consumers across the UK, university students, typically aged between 18 and 22, appear to be being hit particularly hard, with a study carried out by University College London (UCL) revealing 81 percent have been impacted by the cost-of-living-crisis.

In fact, the UCL study went on to note that, of this 81 percent of students impacted, those who have been “most affected” are from low socio-economic backgrounds, international students, and those with dependents.

Higher Education Policy Institute’s study was carried out by Josh Freeman, Policy Manager at HEPI, and is based on a statistical analysis of 140 university responses and interviews with nearly 60 university professionals.

Findings revealed that higher education institutions have adopted a “range of strategies to support students”. These come in the form of hardship funds, food and drink discounts and support with health such as sanitary products which it found have been coordinated by cost-of-living ‘working groups’.

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Splitting the study into two key case studies, Freeman found that the University of Manchester (UoM) had sent £170 in cost-of-living payments to more than 90 percent of students, What’s more UoM had created enquiry forms which reportedly handled more than 16,000 queries.

“The financial squeeze of the last two years has though brought into even sharper relief pressures on students that have been growing for many years,” commented Dr Simon Merrywest, Director for the Student Experience at the University of Manchester and author of the Foreword to the report.

“This report raises important questions about whether universities should themselves be the ones to plug the growing gaps in student finance,” Dr Merrywest continued.

Meanwhile, Buckinghamshire New University (BNU) initiated a programme which provides free activities that allows students to save up to £200 a month. Freeman also found that those students that received the university’s hardship fund had a “seven percent higher progression rate than those who did not”.

Professor Nick Braisby, Vice-Chancellor at Buckinghamshire New University and author of the Afterword to the report, said: “This timely report highlights one of higher education’s greatest modern-day challenges – inequality of access, participation and achievement.

“Higher education providers are doing what they can to support their students, and this report contains much insight as to how they could provide more and more effective support.”

Braisby explained that universities “should not and cannot bear responsibility alone for addressing the cost-of-living crisis facing our students”.

However, the report also found that 27 percent of universities are operating a food bank. This includes 33 percent of Russell Group universities and 63 percent of universities in Wales.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Josh Freeman, said: “This report shows that universities are stepping up as students experience their second major crisis in four years.

“Rather than leaving innovation to the laboratory, student advisors, university leaders and students’ union officers have pushed boundaries to get students more help. But there is more to be done.”

Freeman advises that universities in the UK should “streamline bureaucratic hardship funds” and “set up processes to move more quickly”. Freeman has also shared his stance that he believes it is “past time for the Westminster Government to address the real-terms decline in maintenance support, which leaves too many students at risk of deprivation – in what are supposed to be the best years of their lives”.

And Braisby seems to agree, concluding: “We concur with the report’s call for government to do much more – if they do not, higher education study will simply become unaffordable for many of our students. Ignoring their needs will cause immense damage to our higher education sector, to our society and to our students’ life chances. We urge the government to heed this call for action.”