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Debt-hit students' desperate struggle to make ends meet

BY LINDSAY FERGUS

Financial difficulties have left more than one in five students in Northern Ireland on the brink of dropping out of university, according to a damning new report out today.

The findings of the Pound in Your Pocket survey by students' union NUS-USI shows the staggering scale of the money problems thousands of students face.

The poll of more than 3,000 higher and further education students here found:

  • 37% have seriously considered leaving their course. Of these, 57% cited financial difficulties as a main reason.
  • 58% of students regularly worry about not having enough money to meet basic living expenses such as rent or utility bills.
  • Almost seven in 10 are concerned about future debt levels.
  • 45% struggled to concentrate on their studies without worrying about finances.
  • Nursing and midwifery students fair significantly worse than those taking other subjects.

Between September last year and Easter, the University of Ulster awarded Stormont-funded hardship grants totalling more than £1m to 2,000 students.

Linda Martin, a funding adviser at the university, said that to benefit from a hardship grant, students must have exhausted all other sources of income.

"We are seeing an increase in the number of students using pay day loans, gambling and using two or more bank accounts to get an overdraft," she said.

One student had to apply for a hardship fund after she got into difficulty with four pay day loans.

The survey also revealed that to meet the soaring cost of attaining a degree, half of students are having to work part-time.

NUS-USI president Rebecca Hall described the findings as "absolutely staggering".

"There is a clear association between working longer hours in a part-time job and a student being more likely to consider leaving their course," she said. "Many students in Northern Ireland are finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet. The impact that these financial problems are potentially having as regards students' wellbeing is very worrying."

The union has called on the Assembly to step up its support to students.

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