A hardship fund for international students has been set up, Pat Matthewson, President of the Students’ Association, has confirmed.
In late December the University Court – the governing body of the University – voted on and passed a motion to set up a “hardship fund” for international students.
Mr Matthewson told The Saint the fund had now been officially established and will be run by Ailsa Ritchie, Deputy Director of Student Services.
The hardship fund constitutes a total of £250,000, and is intended for to provide international students with the same level of support as domestic students.
The hardship fund will be implemented from the 2016-17 academic year and will be run through Student Services, who will assess cases on an individual basis and allot a decided sum accordingly to the student in need.
The fund will only be given to a student once they are officially a member of the University: so the student must first successfully apply and matriculate as a student before they can apply for the fund.
The hardship fund was one of Mr Mathewson’s key goals for his second term as Association President.
Mr Matthewson explained the details of the fund to The Saint, including who it will help and why it was introduced.
Mr Mathewson explained that this was a “blind spot” in the University, as while the UK Government currently provides a measure of support for UK students who experience financial difficulties, no such provision has been made for international students.
This hardship fund effectively functions as an “emergency bursary,” Mr Mathewson said.
It is intended to support students who may face unexpected financial trouble and subsequently find it difficult or even impossible to continue to afford their studies at St Andrews.
According to Mr Mathewson, nearly 50 per cent of the student body did not receive adequate financial support, and so it is hoped that this fund will help to combat this gap.
Though the explicit details of the criteria for the Fund have not yet been released to The Saint, Mr Mathewson explained that “as long as the student can prove that there is a need for the fund, it should be allotted to them”, and that the criteria in selecting students has been left deliberately vague in order to allow for their varying situations.
For example, it could be that due to personal illness or that of a family member, a student may not have the income to afford the tuition fees, or that due to a collapse of their native country’s currency, the actual tuition fees far exceed the expected fees for that year: in both of these vastly different cases, the student would be applicable for the hardship fund, and would be allocated a portion of the Fund in accordance with their need.
The Rector of the University of St Andrews, Catherine Stihler, has expressed support for the hardship fund, telling The Saint: “It’s no exaggeration to say that most of the students that contact me in times of need are international students with deep financial hardship, and nowhere else to turn.”
She offered an examples of an international student who faced such hardship, and could have benefited from the existence of such a fund.
One student was a second-year Russian student who was heavily involved in student life at St Andrews, with consistently high grades and an active contributor to both charity and extra-curricular societies.
A drop in oil prices in Russia caused her family to be unable to afford the rest of her tuition, and as a second-year international student she had little recourse to stay on.
Mr Mathewson spearheaded the efforts to set up the hardship fund, and he did not hesitate to acknowledge that the establishment of the fund was very much a collaborative effort.
He says that the University itself was proactive and supportive of the motion, offering no opposition from the very beginning, and that the only reason for the delay was in determining the logistics of the fund.
In addition to this, Mr Mathewson said that the final figure of £250,000 far outweighs his expected figure for the fund, exceeding it perhaps by five to ten times more.
He also adds that “Ben Stuart [Residential Business Services manager] was a tremendous ally in making the fund possible, a great example of the strength of our community and the commitment our staff have to our students.”
Mr Mathewson said that he considers the success of the hardship fund to be a strong example of how much good feedback for the student representatives can accomplish, describing it as an “excellent demonstration of the strength of representation structures in St Andrews.”
He added: “students came and asked us to solve this problem, we pitched to the University and the University responded in kind.”
Mr Mathewson said that he views the fund as a “good omen” for the success of the interaction between students and the University in the future in dealing with similar problems.