Student leaders 'shocked' by cuts to hardship fund

Graduating students
Image caption Many students will now be very worried about their finances, their leaders warn

Student leaders say they are "shocked" that funding for students in financial difficulty is being cut.

Ministers had given universities £2.1m a year for the Financial Contingency Fund (FCF) but now say higher tuition fee income means institutions can afford to fund the scheme themselves.

The National Union of Students (NUS) said the funding was "vital".

However, £7m is still available and some universities are understood to be launching their own schemes.

The average pay-out to students who are successful in applying is about £400.

The National Union of Students (NUS) said the funding was "vital" to allow many students to stay in education.

NUS Wales President Beth Button said: "I am truly shocked that our government in Wales has taken a page out of the Westminster playbook and decided to scrap hardship funds for higher education.

"The decision to announce this just weeks before the start of the academic term will not only leave many students who rely on this funding deeply concerned about their finances but universities with no time to find alternative ways to fill this black hole."

International students

Tim Nagle, a married student nurse from Rhondda with one child and another soon to be born, said he cried when he heard about the funding cut.

In a letter to Education Minister Huw Lewis, Mr Nagle, who studies in Cardiff, said: "When I applied to the fund this year I was, of course, aware that it is discretionary funding but did not anticipate it being scrapped without consultation.

"When I saw on social media that it had been scrapped I actually shed a tear as I instantly worried how I would be able to cope for the rest of my training without access to the fund if required."

A Welsh government spokesman said the continued squeeze on budgets imposed by the UK government meant ministers had to make difficult funding decisions, but said financial help would still be available in the further education sector.

The spokesman said higher education institutions' income would have risen by nearly £200m by 2016, through higher tuition fees paid by home students and the recruitment of more international students.

Ministers believe higher education institutions "are now able to use their own discretionary funds to aid their own students who face financial hardship", the spokesman added.

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