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Student hardship fund in crisis

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Britain's only fund for poverty-stricken architecture students is set to run dry within a year unless there is drastic action, the AJ has learnt.

The RIBA Education Fund, which distributes grants to students facing financial hardship, has been allowed to dissipate by both the ARB and the RIBA.

Supporters of the fund have warned that the expected changes to higher education, which could find students facing debts of up to £35,000, make it essential to retain the safety net for 'working class students' who have financial difficulties.

The charity, formerly the ARCUK Hardship Fund, originally received 50 per cent of ARCUK's registration fees and consistently held £150,000 in funds. But when the ARB replaced ARCUK in 1997 the new regulator denied responsibility for the fund, citing the Architects Act.And the RIBA decided not to tax its members in order to keep the fund afloat. It now totals just £35,000.

The fund's chairman, RIBA past president Larry Rolland, told the AJ that the situation was 'very grave'.

'At the moment, we are giving out a lot more cash than we have coming in and we cannot continue to do this, ' he said. 'We need to get some top-up money from somewhere because recent attempts at general fundraising have not gone well at all.'

Rolland said that the trustees have now proposed a small levy on subscriptions, but rates its chances of winning support from the RIBA professional services committee at 'less than 50-50'.

Co-chair of student body archaos Claire Barton said it would be a travesty if the fund was allowed to disappear, considering 'there is just so much student poverty around and so little money to help'.

'As it stands this is the only resource out there for architecture students in financial trouble and it would be a real problem if it were allowed to die, ' she added.

But RIBA president Paul Hyett said that it would be hard to rescue it unless a 'new retainer was added to subscriptions'. And he added that the fund may be insufficient in any case. 'We need to consider much grander gestures to make a difference to student poverty because the problem has grown so out of hand, ' he added.

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