Coronavirus (COVID-19): student hardship - case studies: report

Final research report on case studies of student hardship during COVID-19.

1. Introduction

1.1 Background and context

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruption across all parts of Scotland's educational system, including in further and higher education delivered by Scotland's colleges and universities.

Early on in the pandemic, stakeholders raised a particular concern around student financial hardship as a result of lost or reduced employment, either for the students themselves, other family members (parents, carers etc) or partners.  For example, a National Union of Students (NUS) COVID-19 and Students Survey[1] published in April 2020 found that for Scottish students:

  • Of those who were in some form of employment at the time (61% of respondents), 14% had their hours reduced, 8% were required to take unpaid leave and 6% were being let go / made redundant;
  • For almost a third of respondents (31%), the income of someone who supported them financially had been 'majorly' (13%) or 'moderately' (18%) affected by COVID-19; and
  • Over two fifths of respondents (43%) were 'concerned' (16%), 'very concerned' (11%) or 'extremely concerned' (16%) about their ability to manage financially during the pandemic.  A further 37% were 'somewhat concerned' and 19% were 'not at all concerned'.

In response, a support package for students during COVID-19 was launched in April 2020 comprising the 'Student Emergency Hardship Fund' and 'Summer Hardship Fund'.  Alongside this, in May 2020, the Scottish Government committed to undertake a research project to better understand the range of financial hardship issues faced by college and university students in Scotland.

1.2 Aims and objectives of this research

This research project was undertaken between May and August 2020.  Fieldwork (online) with institutions took place in May and June, and with students in July and early August.

The overall aim of this research project was to explore the range of financial hardship issues faced by college and university students in Scotland during COVID-19 and the different types of support they were (or weren't) accessing to help avoid experiencing longer-term hardship.

The research adopted a case study approach, by exploring the experiences of different case study groups of students with common characteristics (e.g. working students, students with caring responsibilities, international students).  The specific objectives of the research are outlined below.

The research objectives were to explore…

  • the current employment circumstances of students;
  • the alternative employment opportunities available for students (if any);
  • what any change of income might mean for students in practical terms; and
  • what financial support has been available to students since COVID-19 restrictions were introduced.

1.3 Structure of this report

This research report is structured as follows:

  • Chapter 1 describes the background and context to the research and sets out the research aim and objectives;
  • Chapter 2 outlines the methodology adopted in the research project including a description of the case study approach;
  • Chapter 3 describes the main issues and themes identified in the contextual information on student hardship gathered from institutions and third sector providers at the start of the project;
  • Chapter 4 presents the case study student interview results in terms of the five thematic areas explored.  Case study findings are also described in relation to the contextual information in Chapter 3, exploring where feedback from the institutions supports or contradicts feedback from the students; and
  • Chapter 5 sets out some conclusions from the research.  This includes consideration of policy initiatives taken so far to mitigate student hardship impacts, and areas where there may still be gaps.



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