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Universities working to help students through cost of living crisis

Universities across the region have detailed the ways they are helping students to live and eat during the cost of living crisis.

Wolverhampton University was helping students through food vouchers and free sandwiches

Food vouchers, discounted lunches and food pantries are just some of the ways that the Universities at Aston, Staffordshire and Wolverhampton have been helping students as the new academic year approaches.

The universities have been outlining their plans to help students as they start their new terms after a new report found that one-in-ten universities was giving out food vouchers.

The report by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) also found that more than a quarter of UK universities have a food bank service, with universities in Wales, the South West, the North East and the South East most likely to operate a food bank, while those in Northern Ireland and London were least likely.

The HEPI report was based on a website audit of the 140 members of Universities UK, to see their strategies for supporting students.

Just over half were found to offer discounts on food, while 27 per cent were operating a food bank and 11 per cent were giving out vouchers.

HEPI has called on all universities to establish working groups, launch emergency funds and include students throughout their cost-of-living response, while it said student unions can encourage their university to act by mounting cost-of-living campaigns “founded on strong evidence and excellent relationships with university staff”.

It said the Government should establish a cost-of-living taskforce which consults regularly with students and sector leaders, and called on Westminster and devolved governments to routinely increase the student maintenance loan in line with inflation.

At Aston University, there were a number of measures being taken by the university, some of which were already in operation, from cheap lunches to free SIM cards.

Staffordshire University has been running a food bank for years

A spokeswoman for the University said: "We offer £1 hot lunches on weekdays, and have been doing this since January 2023.

"There is also a student pantry which is available to students during the Students’ Union’s opening hours and provides basic ingredients for students to cook and eat.

"Students are encouraged to use this resource as a ‘swap shop’, taking food when they need it, and dropping off any food that they don’t need.

"Also the Vodafone Foundation, in partnership with The Access Foundation, have donated 1,000 SIM cards to Aston students.

"Each SIM has 40GB data each month, plus unlimited UK texts and calls, and is valid for six months from activation. These are free to qualifying students."

A spokeswoman for Staffordshire University said the university had been operating a food bank for years and had also started a new programme of support for students around food costs and free breakfast.

The spokeswoman said: “Staffordshire University Students’ Union has operated a food bank since 2014 and its use has increased considerably in recent years as a direct result of the cost-of-living crisis.

"Supported by the University, FoodHub operates on a referral basis and following approval by the Union’s Advice Team, the student is provided with a supermarket voucher.

"During 2022-23, 166 students received support through the FoodHub. Although teaching has not yet resumed, the FoodHub has received 24 student referrals since August 1.

"Earlier this year Staffordshire University partnered with the Students’ Union to support students as part of the Staffordshire Action on Cost.

"This included subsidised food options at catering outlets and free cereal and toast for students in Student Union venues which will continue into the new semester.

"Free period products are also now provided in all University buildings, and Students Union venues.”

Aston University was working to help students through food vouchers and free technology

Wolverhampton University was also working to help students through food vouchers as well as other offers and deals.

A spokeswoman said: "Students get food vouchers through our WLV Wallet scheme and we put any leftover food/sandwiches etc. from our cafeteria in fridges based at our campus sites for students and staff to take for free.

"We also offer students and staff special meal deals for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the cafeteria which are heavily discounted."

Report author Josh Freeman said universities are “stepping up as students experience their second major crisis in four years”, after the pandemic.

But he said more can be done, adding: “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.”

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