by LAUREN CODLING
AN INTERNATIONAL student has spoken of the financial difficulties they have endured during the Covid-19 crisis, with some pupils having to seek help from lecturers in order to afford food.
Ansh Sachdeva, 22, a sports coaching student at the University of Bolton, is an international student from New Delhi. Sachdeva, who is Bolton students’ union president, claimed to have spoken to many students who revealed financial problems they faced during lockdown.
Some have had food and laptops donated to them by the university, he said. “It is a very sad time (for international students) at the moment,” Sachdeva told Eastern Eye. “Our university’s first approach was not even thinking about online classes – if students were lacking anything, even money, they wanted to support them.”
Many students have expressed fears they would be unable to repay university fees and additional general necessities. Sachdeva said the university had given some students financial support if they needed it.
In some cases, the school has provided £500 in emergency funds. “There have also been instances when the lecturers have given students food,” Sachdeva added. His comments follow a recent BBC report which highlighted the high number of foreign students looking to food banks for assistance.
The investigation found some students have been unable to pay their course fees, while others have been threatened with suspension by their universities, which would mean their visa would be cancelled. Although Sachdeva acknowledged that some overseas students have struggled, he insisted that Bolton university worked hard to ensure individuals have been offered support.
“If any student is struggling, we are taking every case as it comes,” he explained. “Some international students are well off, but some are struggling financially as they don’t have jobs. They have reached out and been helped by the university.”
Meanwhile, institutions such as the University of Buckingham have emphasised the support available for international students. The institute has a high intake of foreign students, particularly from India.
A University of Buckingham spokesperson revealed details about its Hardship Fund, which offered financial assistance to those in need. An emergency food bank based on campus has continued operating, they said, and the university has also put accommodation fee refunds in place for those who had vacated their rooms early.
The spokesperson told Eastern Eye: “This has been a difficult time for all students, but we will continue to help however we can.”
On a personal level, Sachdeva said he had been occupied helping other students during lockdown as part of his role as student union president. However, he faced personal struggles after the death of his grandfather. International restrictions during lockdown meant he was unable to travel home to be with his family.
“It was shocking, but these are the challenges that I and other international students have faced,” he said. “It is depressing, but you have to get used to the fact that it is a worldwide pandemic and that others have problems too.”
Speaking to Eastern Eye, Anne Marie Graham, CEO of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKISA), advised any students experiencing financial hardship to let their education provider or students’ union know and ask if they can help in any way.
“Many institutions have a hardship fund from which they grant money to students who are in difficulty,” she said. “UKCISA is working closely with a range of sector organisations to direct international students to sources of information and support.”
In response to Eastern Eye, Larissa Kennedy, national president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said the group was “extremely concerned” by the reported impact of Covid-19 on international students.
“Everything possible must be done to provide assistance to students facing such a desperate situation in unprecedented circumstances,” Kennedy said. “We call on all universities and colleges to show maximum understanding if students owe fees, and to support them to remain in safe and secure accommodation in the UK until their finances improve.”
In April, the Home Office published guidance on concessions for international students in response to the outbreak of coronavirus. The advice is updated on a regular basis. Most recently, overseas students in the UK whose visas were due to run out by July 31 were offered a one month “grace period” in which they could arrange travel back to their home country.