Thousands of Queen's University students have applied to for a hardship support fund in recent years, new figures show.
Figures released to the student newspaper The Scoop show that more than 12,360 applied to the Student Hardship and Student Support funds, which typically award up to £700 in the form of a non-repayable loan for those in financial difficulty.
It also shows 557 students who applied to the fund in the academic year 2018/19 were rejected.
Alliance councillor for Lagan River and former QUB student Eoin Tennyson said the money could be a "critical lifeline" for some.
"Finance can be a source of huge pressure and anxiety for students, with an increasing number of hidden costs and challenges facing those at university," he said.
"Student support and hardship funds provide a critical lifeline in times of financial difficulty, and it is imperative that students are able to access these funds as and when required.
"With increasing accommodation and transport costs, and growing challenges surrounding student poverty and mental health, these figures make for stark reading.
"I would urge the Department of Economy and Queen’s University to review the process and ensure students get the necessary support."
While the number of students applying to the fund rose by 14.1% over the past four years, the number approved increased by just 0.4%.
The application for financial assistance asks for details of loans, expenses and exceptional costs, as well as a personal statement explaining why the applicant is in financial difficult and why their situation merits additional support.
Priority is given to mature students whose return to university has caused them financial hardship, lone parents not in receipt of childcare grants or disabled students' allowance and those from low income families or those caring for a relative or who are homeless.
The number of students rejected has risen by 11.5% since 2014/15. More than one in five applicants (20.6%) was rejected in the 2018/19 year.
Speaking to The Scoop, Student's Union vice president welfare officer, Ciaran O’Brien, said: "It's not surprising that more and more students are applying for the hardship fund. As the welfare officer I sit on the Hardship Fund Committee, and at my first meeting during almost mid-way through the first semester of this academic year it was remarked that those processing the applications were receiving on average almost 30 a day.
"More money is clearly needed for the fund," he said.
VP education officer Jason Bunting added: "This worrying rise in applications demonstrates the acute financial pressures student face, which have a major impact on poor mental health.
"The fact that so many students are making applications also demonstrates that our university is still inaccessible to working class young people. It is time that QUB took urgent action and ensure university is accessible for everyone."
NUS-USI President Robert Murtagh said: "Increasing numbers of students applying to the student hardship fund is, unfortunately, not surprising.
"As rent, transport, food and the general cost of living have continued to rise, student maintenance loans and grants have remained static, meaning many students cannot afford to make ends meet."
Queen’s University Belfast and the Department for the Economy have been asked for a comment.