Supporting students to achieve full potential through cost of living crisis - Viki Soper

Times are tough right now. Inflation is running at a 40-year high, with energy prices soaring and we know that this is having an impact on everyone, including our students.

A recent National Union of Students (NUS) survey found that 92 per cent of UK students said that the cost-of-living crisis was having an impact on their mental health, 96 per cent of students are cutting back, 68 per cent said they were no longer able to afford course materials, and more than one in ten are using food banks.

Social justice is at the heart of what we do at The Open University, and we are sponsoring food writer and hunger-relief campaigner Jack Monroe’s event, On Self-Care and Social Change, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on August 25.

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Involvement in cultural engagement activity across Scotland, such as this event, is critical to helping us achieve our mission. We prioritise making education accessible to everyone, regardless of income or previous qualifications. It is important to us that our students know we are here for them during the cost-of-living crisis.

Jade Taylor at the Open University Scotland Graduations 2022 at the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow. Picture: Julie Howden
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We believe that cost shouldn’t be a barrier to students achieving their potential. My team are trained to provide dedicated support to students who might be considering their options in the face of this crisis.

The majority of our students study for free with a Part-Time Fee Grant and we offer a wide range of financial support options, such as discretionary funds for study related costs, a disabled students’ allowance, plus bursaries for our care-experienced students and those who are carers. Our students also have access to the confidential 24/7 online mental health support service, Togetherall.We’re a welcoming team, a friendly voice on the end of the phone, ready to listen and explore options to support our students to achieve their potential in these difficult circumstances. The OU in Scotland ranked joint first in Scotland for student satisfaction in the 2022 National Student Survey and I’m immensely proud of our Student Support Team and tutors whose work with our students contributed to this impact.

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The OU offers affordable, flexible study that allows students to work at the same time as they learn. Jade Taylor, age 23, quit her studies at a campus-based university in Edinburgh and was able to complete her degree back home in the rural Scottish Borders with the OU. A Part-Time Fee Grant funded Jade’s OU studies.

Jade achieved her degree while working full time, and through the pandemic. She said: “After completing my first two years at a university in Edinburgh, I decided living in the city wasn’t for me and I was losing interest in my course due to money stress. So, I decided I was going to quit after completing my second year. Luckily, I was awarded credit transfer – two years’ worth from my original university - and managed to go straight into stage three at the OU, which was the equivalent to third year of uni.”

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As well as Jack Monroe’s event, the OU in Scotland is also supporting events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2022 with actor and OU honorary graduate Alan Cumming, poets Michael Pedersen (with singers Charlotte Church and Shirley Manson) and Liz Lochhead, and Sunday Times bestselling writer Candice Carty-Williams. More information at www.open.ac.uk/Scotland.

Viki Soper is Senior Manager of Student Operation and Fees at The Open University in Scotland

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