Universities forced to step in to fund students without means

As the price of college courses rises, institutions begin to assist more who are less worried about their education, and more about the uncertainty of their next meal

The number of university students unable to meet the costs of their courses in Spain has risen during the current recession. Fees have gone up by as much as 67 percent in Catalonia, while the requisites for receiving state aid have been toughened and rampant unemployment has left many families unable to fund their children's studies.

In the face of the potential loss of students, Spain's universities have set up emergency funds for those unable to pay fees, transport or materials, and even a coupon system for their canteens.

"We know it is a sticking plaster and the authorities need to take action, but something needed to be done, and the universities are closest to the students," said Silvia Carrasco, deputy rector at Barcelona's Universidad Autónoma (UAB), whose 320,000-euro fund already benefits 150 students.

"The idea is that no student should have to drop a course because of a lack of resources," said Burgos University's deputy rector René Jesús Payo, where 120,000 euros has been set aside for needy students, with an additional fund for those that unexpectedly find themselves in that category. "We thought it was necessary in these times," Payo said.

Part of the problem is that state grants for 2013 are based on family tax declarations from 2011, during which time circumstances can have altered dramatically. "I used to jump the turnstiles at the Metro," said Ana, a student at UAB whose family lost its business and whose fees have been met by the university. "You stop thinking about the future; you just think about if you'll eat."

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