On Thursday 27th October, the University of Nottingham hosted a talk focused on the ever-pressing issue of the cost of living, and the challenges it presents to students. The talk consisted of a Q&A session with two panels; one of local MPs, and the other with University and SU staff. Impact’s Hannah Walton-Hughes reports.
The increased cost of living is a continual worry for many students, both in Nottingham, and across the country. This talk, hosted by the University and SU, aimed to alleviate some of the concerns students have.
Help needs to be tailored to students as individuals
Impact interviewed one of the panellists, Lilian Greenwood, who is the MP for Nottingham South. She identified some of the main challenges that students are facing regarding the crisis, including a loss of maintenance grants, and that parents are struggling to provide for the increasing financial reliance of their children. She recognised that help needs to be tailored to students as individuals.
Lilian went on to say that it needs to be ensured that there is quality housing available that is not ridiculously expensive to heat. She wants to take any new ideas regarding tackling the crisis to the government and the Labour front benches.
The second interview I conducted was with Janette Alvarado-Cruz, Associate Director (EDI), Student and Campus Life. Janette believes that the University should help students with finding employment in addition to their full/part time studies. She acknowledged that “we do have a challenge in making communications wider”; one of the methods she outlined was utilising the large screens used for advertisements on campus, and the University’s webpages.
Pavlos pointed to the current “list” the council has of landlords who are neglectful
Also on the panel were Alex Norris who is the Labour MP for Nottingham North and Pavlos Kotsonis who is the Labour Councillor for Lenton and Wollaton East.
In response to the first question regarding the rising housing prices/issues in Nottingham, and frequent exploitation by landlords, Pavlos pointed to the current “list” the council has of landlords who are neglectful and wants to push for charges to be made against them. Lilian commented on how the rising demand for purpose-built student accommodation is causing landlords to charge extreme prices. Lilian highlighted the importance of students understanding the “rights” they have to raise housing concerns.
The impact of the cost of living on international students was also raised; they often face language barriers when trying to tackle this issue, leading to exploitation. On the topic of increasing the hours that a student can work (currently capped at 20), so that they can better financially support themselves, Adam explained that it could be a “bit of a stretch”, but that it was not his “role to tell students how to manage their time”.
Social issues that contribute to cost-of-living struggles, such as racial/ethnic discrimination by landlords
The panel then responded to a series of questions regarding housing affordability and funding the University effectively so that students can get by. Lilian touched on the importance of universities having the ability to provide hardship support to students. On a wider scale, Pavlos emphasised the conflict of the government’s desire to bring in more sustainable housing, whilst battling with building regulations.
To sum up, the panel touched on a few social issues that contribute to cost-of-living struggles, such as racial/ethnic discrimination by landlords and the generational gap/inequalities related to the pensioners triple-lock. Pavlos pointed out the Victim Care Agency, which can be used to report hate crimes. He also referenced the University’s in-house welfare service.
Support on campus: breakfast clubs, free period products and free shower and laptop facilities
In attendance for the second panel were Sultan Chaudhury (Chair of the MP panel and current Student Union Development Officer), Janette Alvarado-Cruz, Mark Bradley (Professor of Classics and Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor), and finally Robert Peck (Senior Manager for Funding and Financial Support).
Sultan wants to embed the cost of living and its challenges in everything that the SU does. The support which is already in place included Bursaries, Hardship funds, Crisis funds, and a new Finances Capabilities Manager. In terms of support on campus: breakfast clubs, free period products and free shower and laptop facilities were mentioned. The Nottingham Student News webpage provides more information.
“More we could do” to improve the catering picture for international students
Responding to concerns raised around a lack of fresh support, Robert emphasised that the Student Experience Committee is working to make sure “fair and equitable” support is getting to those who need it most. Mark made students aware that funding is often tied up, and compromises must be made.
The issue of inequalities created between home and international students, in regard to the cost of living, was raised particularly in relation to the rising costs of their native food at off-campus outlets. Mark agreed there was “more we could do” to improve the catering picture for international students. Janette commented on how Black students sometimes don’t feel a sense of “belonging” on campus, particularly regarding catering.
In conclusion, Robert commended short-term funds for students, including short-term debt options such as credit cards and overdrafts. Mark described it as “the job of the panel to listen”, and that they were determined to work with the SU, students and MPs to look at what is going on across the sector. He referred to a “bank” of Frequently Asked Questions that will be made available on their website. Janette assured students that the panel was working across the board with ‘Universities UK’ and the ‘Russel Group’. Sultan finished the talk by saying “we are here for you.”
“From what I’ve heard, I think a lot is going on.”
At the end of the talk, I spoke to a couple of students who had attended, to hear their feedback. Vishwa, a student who only arrived at the University a week ago, believes that “awareness is key”, and that we should be talking to students who have had experiences in renting.
Benjamin Omeke, who contributed a great deal to the discussion was somewhat reassured by what he had heard, “from what I’ve heard, I think a lot is going on. We should give them time to see what they come up with.” Benjamin believes that getting “more students involved” is important.
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