Student hardship is now at record levels, and for many it has reached crisis point. It has to be the priority of every organisation involved in education to work towards finding a solution to student hardship. On campuses the crisis of hardship is alarmingly evident. Only Government ministers remain convinced that the problem does not really exist.
The National Union of Students Values For Money survey conducted in February 1995 found one in three students missed meals because of hardship, one in four considered dropping out, one in three worked part-time during term and one in two thought their financial situation was having an adverse effect upon their academic work.
A new report from the British Medical Association found that university medical centres were dealing with increases in stress-related illness and eating disorders brought on by financial problems.
A Government policy which forces so many students into so much hardship is completely contradictory to pledges of increasing access to education. For mature students, student parents, students with disabilities, part-time students and students from low-income families, the Government's boasts of increasing access are cruelly hollow, especially following the budget's latest blow to students in need with the freezing of access funds.
The Government has scored an own goal. It had the opportunity to create education for all but then constructed so many financial barriers that many cannot now afford to participate properly.
We have to work towards a solution to the crisis of student hardship, a solution which will give everyone of ability the opportunities of education without the obstacles of severe financial hardship. This must be our common aim for 1996, and one which we should approach with urgency.
Jim Murphy is president of the National Union of Students.