Student groups representing students from across the UK have coordinated emergency food deliveries with local community groups and charities. Many young people have lost their part-time jobs and can no longer afford even basic living expenses.
The National Association of Indian Students, one of the largest student groups, has said so far that it has helped distribute food to more than 3,000 struggling students across the country. A second group of UK-wide students, the National Indian Students and Alumni Union, says it has also received calls from hundreds of students who cannot afford to eat.
Charan Sekhon, president of an Anglo-Indian charity based in Bedford called the Seva Trust, which delivered food parcels to more than 60 Indian students in his area, said: “We have had many examples where students are in made hungry. They have nothing to eat at all. “
Virendra Sharma, Labor MP for Ealing Southall, wrote education secretary Gavin Williamson on Wednesday to urge universities to divert money from hardship funds, often discretionary, for international students. He also called for minimum service standards for universities to ensure that they provide students with sufficient advice and support.
He wrote, “I have heard stories from international students who are considering suicide because they don’t know what to do and can’t afford to eat.”
India has banned all international flights from March 22, giving students only two days to organize their return home. Flights that typically cost around £ 300 sold for £ 2,000, and thousands of students were stranded in Britain.
India is the fastest growing market for UK universities, with almost 27,000 Indian students coming to the UK in 2018-19. International students can pay up to £ 38,000 a year in tuition to study for an undergraduate degree at a British university. Indian student groups and charities claim that many Indian students do not come from wealthy families and must rely on part-time jobs to cover their living expenses.
Sekhon said his small charity, which usually focuses on educational projects, has been inundated with requests from students since it was listed by the Indian High Commission as a support group for coronaviruses. He has been providing hot meals and free food to Indian students in Milton Keynes, Bedford and Luton for four weeks. He says the students come mainly from the universities of Cranfield, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.
“I don’t think the universities fully understand what’s going on,” he says. “Many of these students were in cash or hourly paid jobs, which they lost. They cannot go home, they feel lonely and do not know how to access help like food banks. “
A spokesperson for the University of Bedfordshire said: “Students do not always highlight their difficulties and do not contact our support team. We urge students who find it difficult to get in touch immediately. The university can provide care kits and financial support as well as help finding work, she said.
Cranfield University says it is only aware of one case of difficulty. “Our student wellness and support team is working out the details and will offer help,” he said.
The University of Hertfordshire says it offers wellness support, care packages, accommodation and food stamps and has set up a new fund to help students struggling due to the pandemic.
Sameer Dhore, a student at Greenwich University and president of the university’s Indian Society, said, “Students cry on the phone saying they want to see their mom or dad. The major problem is finance. Students are running out of money right now. There are students who have nothing to live for. “
The National Indian Students and Alumni Union says it has received thousands of requests from anxious “trapped” students across the UK, hundreds of whom say they don’t have enough to eat.
Sanam Arora, President of NISAU, said: “Many students depend on part-time jobs, and now they have lost them, they can no longer pay their rent or buy food. She says there is an atmosphere of panic: “The mental health issues are simply staggering. Some students even threatened to kill themselves. “
The organization has called on the Indian government to help students get home and is supporting a call by the National Students Union of the United Kingdom for the British government to do more to help. “International students are going through the safety net,” she warns.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Indian Students said it has helped to date distribute more than 3,600 relief packages of groceries and cooked meals to students. Of these, 90% were in England, although he also supported students in Wales, Scotland and Belfast. Indian grocery stores and restaurants have contacted the association to provide them with alternative food and to help distribute it to students in need.
Prerit Souda, member of the INSA committee, says that in addition to being unable to buy food, some students have been expelled because they cannot pay their rent. “We put them in touch with legal experts, but in some cases the students have subcontracted and it is much more difficult because they do not have the same rights. In these cases, we have worked with organizations in the Indian community to find them in a free place to stay. “
The Indian government has said the flight ban will continue until midnight Sunday. Student groups, charities and parents are calling for students to be placed at the top of the queue for repatriation.
Universities UK, the group of vice-chancellors, says that all universities now have support systems in place. Vivienne Stern, UK’s international director, says, “The first advice we would give to students is please contact your university. If they don’t know, they can’t help you. They may not be able to fix everything, but there are people out there who want to help and listen to your problems. “
Stern says some universities go the extra mile to reach students, rather than waiting for students to come to them. These include the University of Exeter, which called all the remaining international students daily. Meanwhile, the University of Bath has transferred students from rooms in the city center to rooms on its campus and provides three free meals a day.
Meanwhile, parents and loved ones back in India are using social media to beg the Indian government to bring their children home.
These include Dipti Taluja, whose 18-year-old son graduated in sound engineering and music production at a private higher education institution in London. “It is very scary to sit thousands of miles away and know that you are helpless and there is nothing you can do to bring your child back,” she said from her home in Gurugram, near New Delhi. Her son was “very depressed,” she says, but is doing better after talking to NISAU volunteers.
The UK Council for International Student Affairs has a tips page to help students.