The University of the Highlands and Islands has launched an emergency fund to help students who have been affected by the coronavirus crisis.

With campuses across the Highlands and Islands closed due to the outbreak, academic staff have switched to delivering their courses online. While many of the university’s 40,000 students have been able to continue their studies from home, an increasing number have reported they do not have the equipment or internet connections they need to access online classes and resources.

The university has set up an emergency study fund to address this issue, offering support to college and university students who are unable to purchase essential technology due to financial hardship. The fund is being used to provide students with a range of equipment and services, including laptops and broadband connections.

Local businesses and individuals including Mark Mair, chair of the Moray-based aviation museum Morayvia, and the Turriff-based company, Ace Winches, have already supported the cause. The university’s IT department is working to refurbish existing laptops and purchase new ones. The contributions have helped to deliver laptops to over 40 students across the Highlands and Islands so far. The devices are being deployed on loan agreements so future students can benefit from them too.

Alison Wilson, Head of Development at the university, explained: “The response to the fund has been fantastic and we are extremely grateful for all of the donations. However, the demand from students is increasing rapidly - we’ve had another 45 applications in the past three days alone. As well as applying to funds set up to help Covid-19 related causes, we are also urgently seeking donations from anyone who might be able to help. We need to act quickly to reduce the risk of students dropping out or having to repeat their studies. 

“We want to help all of our students who are struggling with access and hardship issues and this may require anything from £250 to £750 per student depending on support needs. We would love to hear from any organisations or members of the public who may be in a position to donate to the fund and help students in need right now.”

Esther MacKinnon, a BA (Hons) archaeology student from Alness, is one of those who has benefitted from the fund. She said: “I am delighted to be able to carry on my studies and complete my first year. Since I got the computer this week, I have been able to access recordings of classes and I can now join classes online which is great. There is so much that is difficult at the moment, but I am glad to keep going with my study.”

Alan Simpson, president of the Highlands and Islands Students’ Association, added: “Working with the university, HISA has managed to secure £40,000 to be put towards student support in digital poverty. I am really pleased that we have been able to respond to feedback from our students and provide this additional funding, but much more will be needed to meet the needs of students across the region.

“The welfare of our students is always our main priority and so I am really happy that some of this funding will also go towards helping students with their rent, bills and food. Many people have lost their jobs and are unable to apply for universal credit because they are full time students and this funding has the ability to support them.

“I am immensely grateful to the university’s management for recognising the need for this fund and for all that the public have already donated.”

If you would like to provide support to students in need or find out more about the emergency fund, visit www.uhi.ac.uk/en/development/emergency-study-fund