Growing numbers of students in the Highlands and Islands are turning to foodbanks for help as the cost of living crisis bites.
Increases in the cost of food, heating and clothes are leaving many attending university struggling as they study.
The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) is taking a series of measures to support those in need.
Free breakfast and lunch clubs have been set up on many campuses. Special areas are also making food, clothes and toiletries available.
Emergency study fund re-launched
To help combat hardship, UHI has re-launched its emergency study fund and local giving pages have been set up in colleges, including UHI North Highland.
The fund first opened at the start of Covid and raised over £115,000 to support more than 150 students.
This included those who couldn’t afford equipment to study at home, others in financial need or struggling with mental health.
Students are also being offered free soup and a roll at lunch.
The re-launched appeal seeks donations to provide free meals, help students with household bills, buy equipment, or assist with childcare and travel costs.
The online appeal page says: “The current cost of living crisis is affecting everyone. But at UHI, we are seeing daily that the impact on our students is catastrophic.
“Increases in utility bills, food prices and transport costs pose financial challenges on a level that we had hoped never to see, especially for the many students who already found it difficult to make ends meet, even before prices began to rise significantly.”
UHI colleges are also reviewing prices in canteens, using the cross-partnership hardship group to share ideas to save money and offering warm spaces on campus for people to study.
Help with buying books
Last week UHI Inverness launched a book fund to help students buy the books they need for their studies.
The measures are in addition to using discretionary funding from the Scottish Government to support students.
Kate Mawby, UHI’s student support manager, said: “This is the first time we’ve done this on this level.
“Most of the support has started since the cost of living crisis and it’s becoming more widespread.
“Everyone is trying to do something to make sure the students can get whatever support they are entitled to or we can provide.
“It’s tough out there and we don’t want to see students struggling. We want them to be able to focus on their studies, but you can’t do that if you’re cold or hungry.”
Alison Wilson says UHI wants to look after students wherever possible
The university partners with foodbanks in many areas and refers students in most need.
Kate added: “It’s a dreadful situation. More and more students are using foodbanks.
“It used to be the odd one or two, but it’s more than that now. It’s no more shocking than NHS workers using foodbanks, but it’s still wrong.”
Kate said some people remain reluctant to use support, like foodbanks, due to the stigma attached.
“But, to be honest, that’s becoming less of an issue as more and more people need to use them.
“It doesn’t make it right, but it’s becoming more normal.”
UHI North Highland is one of the campuses offering free food to students.
‘Money has been tight’
Jo Easter, 26, who is studying environmental science at UHI Moray, welcomed the support: “I am a mature student, I’m also an unpaid carer for my wife, so I’m limited in the amount of work I can do to fund my studies.
“Money has been tight, so I’m very excited and pleased.”
Rogan Nussey, 17, from Golspie, who is studying engineering systems at UHI Inverness, said: “The support will allow me to focus more on my studies and put extra time into my coursework, something I wouldn’t have been able to do without the financial assistance.”
Kate Mawby at UHI Outer Hebrides with some of the clothing donated for students to take.
This year UHI has also awarded 28 scholarships, up from 20, to help students overcome financial difficulty.
But the university can’t keep up with demand, with up to 80 applications for scholarships each year.
“We would definitely support more students if we could”, says Alison. “Financial support like this makes a massive difference, but it also increases confidence.
“Many students say it is the first time someone has believed in them.”-Pressandjournal