Words by Jago Bayley, Staff Writer
The university has upgraded its student and staff support package this November – which now amounts to £6.6 million – following an earlier initiative in July. This comes in response to the ongoing cost of living crisis, and a winter which will be “hugely challenging” for significant numbers of people at the university, according to Vice Chancellor Sasha Roseneil.
The decision means that the Sussex Hardship fund has now doubled in value, and the Sussex Bursary has also been increased by £200 per student. The amount of financial support available will be monitored as the year progresses, ensuring that the funds remain consistent with inflation.
Staff support is also prioritised by the package. Discussions between the UCU (University and College Union) and the University in June secured one-off payments for staff, and this will be continued through the winter period, with emphasis on supporting those affected the most acutely by the cost of living crisis.
The improved package is timely given the current financial landscape for students and university staff in the UK. A survey conducted by the National Union for Students (NUS) in June found that, among the 3500 students involved, 96% were having to reduce their weekly expenditure to cope with their living costs; 92% stated that the situation was being detrimental to their mental health. Household expenses were cited as the dominant strain on student budgets – Brighton is no exception, ranked 10th amongst the most expensive student cities in the UK according to a Superprof study in May this year.
As for staff, the previous academic year saw periods of sustained industrial action at Sussex and across the UK, centering around issues of pay, pensions and working conditions. Sixteen weeks of negotiations between the university and the UCU resulted in a significant number of agreements, such as the creation of a £50,000 carers’ support budget fund and transforming maternity pay into full pay for a 26-week period. Dr Jo Pawlik, the UCU Sussex President said in October that she was “pleased” with progress despite the “unprecedented challenges” that currently exist in higher education.
The Vice Chancellor described the upgraded support package as “comprehensive and progressive”, encompassing both “financial and practical support”. There are a range of practical solutions being implemented; for staff, parking fares on campus have returned to their pre-pandemic price, discounted bus and train tickets are available, and the Employee Assistance Programme offers counselling and support. There will also be a variety of vegan and vegetarian hot meals on campus for £2 in the restaurants on campus, to the benefit of students and staff.
Students currently facing financial difficulties can apply for an interest-free Welfare loan of up to £700, which needs to be repaid within a fixed timeframe. The university has also teamed up with Blackbullion, which is a free financial education platform to assist with skills such as budgeting and saving to make finances go further. The Student Hub also offers a range of useful resources and services in its “money and funding” section, including the different forms of financial support available, advice about money management and contact details for relevant teams who can offer assistance. Additionally, the “Health, support and wellbeing” section of Student Hub details a range of different support services available for students such as counselling and wellbeing advice.
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