King’s hardship funds need to be more accessible

The King’s Tab spoke to Mariam Zbadi, a student funding her third year through Gofundme

The coronavirus pandemic has meant a host of changes for students: the introduction of remote studying, an inability to attend in-person classes, and a range of mental health problems that come with limited social interaction. The other way in which the pandemic has affected students and their families, however, is financial: job losses and a lack of job opportunities across the UK means many students are facing unprecedented financial hardship.

In times like this, universities need to be more accommodating towards their students’ financial needs. King’s College London has two funds set up for students to use in their time of need: The King’s Hardship Fund for home fee students, and the King’s International Hardship Fund for international students. Students can also access the King’s Financial Aid Fund by submitting a financial aid application. In addition to these funds, King’s has set aside a separate fund for medical and dentistry students: the King’s Medical and Dental Hardship Fund.

While the existence of these funds is a step in the right direction, many students find them inaccessible, as they operate with requirements that make it difficult for students in need of funds to access them. The funds have requirements regarding the timing of unforeseen financial circumstances and the documentation provided.

The King’s Tab spoke to Mariam Zbadi, a King’s third-year Mathematics and Philosophy student who was denied funding through the International Hardship Fund, and thus chose to fund her third year through Gofundme. Mariam has so far raised €8,490 of her €20,000 goal, but her experience hasn’t been easy.

In a video posted to Youtube, Mariam explained the circumstances that led her to crowd-funding her degree. Her father’s departure from her family in January 2020 meant that her family no longer had a stable source of income. Difficulties finding a job due to the pandemic, gaining access to a loan, and gaining funding through legal procedures meant that Mariam had to look elsewhere for financial support.

Born to immigrant parents, Mariam is also an exceptional student, having gained a first-class both in the first and second year of her degree. Her Gofundme states that she wants nothing more than to “attempt everything in my power” to “complete the journey” of her degree. Yet, she “received no response” regarding the King’s International Hardship Fund prior to creating her Gofundme.

The King’s Tab asked Mariam about her experience applying for the International Hardship Fund. She said: “A few days after starting my GoFundMe, I did receive an answer from King’s. They said that my application for the International Hardship Fund had been rejected. I was then redirected to contact the Advice and Guidance Team, which only reopened at the beginning of September.”

She went on to state that while the application process for the hardship fund was relatively simple, receiving a decision was a lengthy process. “I applied for the Fund on the 28th of July 2020. At that time, the website stated clearly that applications were open and that all I needed to do was to provide documents and further details about my new circumstances. One month later, I received a rejection.”

Mariam’s request for funds was said to be rejected because of the timing of her financial distress. “I was told that my 2019/20 International Hardship Fund application was not successful because I was applying for funding to support my 2020/21 academic year, but the 2020/21 International Hardship Fund was not open yet, and would not be until around November 2020.” Due to the timing of her financial troubles, Mariam could not access funding from King’s. “How is it expected that unforeseen circumstances can only happen from November on?”

As for the criteria to apply, Mariam had mixed feelings. “I think that the criteria as they appeared at the beginning of the application process were reasonable, but after the new requirements that came out in the response from King’s, I would say that they are too narrow. It is just not fair to imply that a student who had hardship in the middle of their second year, should not enrol for their final year at university because of the timing of the hardship.”

Mariam also stated that transparency in the fund’s application requirements and a change in dates for when students could apply would greatly help the number of students who can access hardship funds. “What I think could be better about the International Hardship Fund is if they were more transparent about the requirements to apply from the very beginning. Additionally, the fund for each academic year should be left open throughout that whole year. Unforeseen circumstances are, by definition, unforeseen and therefore you never know when they can happen.”

The link to Mariam’s Gofundme can be found here.

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