International students from RGU are having to use an Aberdeen foodbank after Covid and the rise in living costs have hit hard.
Many students who come to study in the UK from abroad face steep bills for their education.
On top of charges for their studies and accommodation, they face added costs for food, utilities, internet and transport.
While some may secure scholarships or save funds to cover the bigger bills, many international students have to work long hours in order to pay for the added basic necessities.
Jobs offering the hours needed tend to be in the hospitality or leisure sector, some of the businesses that have been most affected by Covid.
Even when restrictions eased, firms in these industries were not operating to the normal capacity and could not offer the hours needed. Students coming from countries that offer no access to grants or government support have been left struggling to cover costs.
Increase in students using the local foodbank
Paul O’Connor, manager of Inchgarth Community Centre in Garthdee, said they had seen a dramatic increase in students using their foodbank recently.
He said: “I would say the student usage of the foodbank has gone up massively since January and it’s a lot of the overseas students.
“We’re finding that it’s a lot of African students because they will tend to be the students with no recourse to public funds.
“These people are coming from different countries where they’re not going to get a benefit like the safety net the rest of us will have and even then, the safety level for us is pretty dire with universal credit.”
The foodbank at Inchgarth feeds on average 400 to 600 people a week and supports people in 26 communities. It also serves fresh meals every week.
Trying to break student stereotypes
However, Mr O’Connor said there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to breaking stereotypes.
He said: “This is a conversation I’m having with lots of different people, for example somebody emailed me wanting to know why their food donation was being given to students.
“Another misconception is that students are stopping local people from accessing the foodbank – it’s categorically untrue.”
Mr O’Connor said he has even had conversations with foodbank users who did not understand why they were standing in queues with students.
“I’ve heard people who are feeling intimidated standing in a queue of students,” he added. “Well, why would you feel intimidated? There is an indignity and people feel embarrassed but if you need help you need help.
“We’re not judging and so I wouldn’t expect people who are gaining support to judge others. It is difficult for people to stand there in a queue.
“Students are very welcome. I think it would be a really, really sad day if we told somebody by definition of being a student we just don’t feel it is appropriate to help.
“My brain doesn’t grasp that, you’re a person, you need help and we’ll help if we have the resources.”
Working in partnership with RGU
Since January, Mr O’Connor estimated students make up 65% of users at the foodbank. Before this, it was ranging from 25% to 40%.
The 46-year-old said this was probably due to no access to public funds, lack of jobs that will cover the bills and the rise in the cost of living.
He added: “What a sense of hopelessness that must be and how much desperation you would feel on how do you provide.
“There’s a whole range of reasons why the students have been attending in significant numbers and it’s one of the conversations I’ll be having with RGU.”
RGU‘s vice principal for academic development and student experience, Lynn Kilbride, explained talks were ongoing between the university, the student union and the community centre to find the best way to support those needing help.
She said: “We’re working closely with Inchgarth Community Centre to find wider opportunities to support the Garthdee community, which includes some of our international students.
“We know from experience that it is possible for students—like other residents of Garthdee—to encounter financial hardship.
“In partnership with Inchgarth Community Centre, we’re exploring ways to create opportunities for the whole community by supporting the valuable resources available to all and, in turn, helping more widely than just our students.
“The upcoming meeting between Paul O’Conner, the university, and RGU’s student union is part of that work to partner with those who support our students and build closer relationships.”
The Press and Journal and Evening Express are working to raise awareness of the vital role foodbanks play in our communities, and where people can get help.
The Big Food Appeal is also working to debunk some of the myths and stigma around foodbanks.
We have produced an interactive map of foodbanks and other schemes, so you can find the one nearest to you.
The foodbank at Inchgarth Community Centre relies on donations of food, hygiene products and cash to help support those struggling in the community.