Florence Oulds, CUSU's disabled students' officer, aims for the petition to target gaps in financial support for intermitting students nationwideCUSU

CUSU has launched a parliamentary petition today to change the government classification of intermitting students, which leaves some Cambridge students without a financial lifeline.

A Varsity investigation earlier this year revealed students had been left in serious hardship after being unable to claim financial support due to a policy loophole.

Explained What is intermission?

Intermission (or ‘disregarding terms’) is the process by which Cambridge students take a break from study. It is almost always aimed at helping students overcome serious issues, medical or otherwise, and usually varies in duration from a single term to up to two academic years. It is designed to give students time to recover from an “illness or other grave cause” that has made it impossible for them to continue their studies.

It is most common for students who intermit to resume their degree at the start of the next academic year. The process of “disregarding” part (or all) of an academic year allows students to take examinations in a subsequent year in which they would not otherwise have been allowed to sit them. To be granted this, the student’s college must apply to the University Council’s Applications Committee, usually requiring the submission of medical evidence demonstrating that the student is currently unable to continue their course. Each college produces its own agreements with its students about the terms of their intermission.

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Intermitting students are still classed as full-time students by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), and are thus not eligible to receive certain means of state support such as out-of-work and means-tested benefits.

CUSU’s petition plans to raise in Parliament the issue of financial hardship for intermitting students – many of whom already struggle with their mental health or little familial financial support.

The petition calls on the government to “recognise students taking a leave of absence as no longer full-time students, and thus eligible to claim benefits including Housing Benefit, Income Support, JSA and ESA and Universal Credit.”


Mountain View

Revealed: How intermitting students are left financially abandoned

Full-time students are only eligible to claim income-related benefits, barring exceptional circumstances, such as the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which is given to individuals with a serious long-term illness or disability.

The strict criteria for PIP go beyond what is generally required for non-students to claim other out-of-work benefits. Intermitting students who do not qualify for PIP, many of whom intermit due to ill health, therefore are left with no financial assistance during their time away from their studies.

Despite being classified as full-time students by the DWP, however, intermitting students are not considered as such by Student Finance England, and therefore see student loans and maintenance payments withdrawn during their intermission.

The issued was raised at the University’s Welfare and Finances committee earlier this year, following Varsity’s report. The secretary of the Senior Tutors’ Committee, Dr Mark Wormald, “expressed his gratitude to Varsity for raising the issue.”

The committees’ minutes from January note: “It was recognised that there were a number of reasons why intermitting students might need to remain as students and that the issue was likely to be complex. It was noted that the secretary was undertaking further research to better understand these reasons, and how other HE institutions were dealing with the issue.”

Mountain View

Read Varsity’s original investigation into intermissions

Speaking to Varsity earlier this year, CUSU Disabled Students’ Officer Florence Oulds said that she had heard from intermitting students “dozens of times that insecurity around their finances has been a huge source of stress and a disruption to their recovery.”

Oulds stated that the aim of the petition “is ultimately to change the way the DWP classifies intermitting students to improve their access to benefits”, but also to “continue the local and national conversation about intermission.”

This is not CUSU’s first attempt to improve the intermission system. Last November, following lobbying by CUSU and an investigation by Varsity, the University changed the guidance offered to intermitting students, removing the suggestion that students should not enter the city during their intermission. The updated guidance now says that students “may, but are not expected to, remain in Cambridge for the period of intermission.”

Last month, CUSU held an ‘intermission forum’ with senior tutors and service representatives to discuss “the key issues facing intermitting students, and to share the opinions of those with experience of the process,” as well as to make sure that the new intermission guidance “was being implemented well.”

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