MSc student is a granted a tuition fee waiver after a successful GoFundMe campaign

Liam Knights, an MSc student at the University of Leeds has recieved a tuition fee waiver after launching a successful GoFundMe to raise the funds he needed to graduate this year.

The fundraiser circulated in Leeds student groups last week detailing how Liam had one day to pay his tuition fees and would otherwise be unable to graduate in 2020. 

Featured alongside the GoFundMe is a video Liam produced for the University in 2017, detailing his experience as a young person from a disadvantaged background and his scholarship supported journey at Leeds. 

Liam describes how he worked as a labourer in the Laidlaw Library, leaving a note for himself behind a loose panel, knowing he would only be able to retrieve it if he was to return to the library as a student. 

Liam did a social science foundation year at the University of Leeds, going on to study an undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice and Criminology, and finally persuing an MSc in Security, Conflict and Justice. 

Despite the use of his story for promotion by the University, Liam, who found himself living on the breadline this year and had to cancel the direct debit for his final tuition fee payment in order to pay his rent, was initially met with little support. 

The University originally responded to Liam’s request for assistance with a hard no, advising him to set up a monthly payment plan to pay off his fees. Liam’s GoFundMe points out this would have taken 21 years at £10 a month.  

Liam has said: ‘I think the staff I spoke to were just following standard procedure, it’s just that due to oversight, it hadn’t been adapted for the everything that’s going on. I’ve got different circumstances in my life than the standard student, and that just didn’t get noticed really’.

The fundraiser brought the attention of Professor Joan Loughery, Head of the School of Law, who on speaking to Liam about his experience has offered to waiver the remainder of his tuition fees.

Liam is not angry with the school, giving credit to this response, stating: ‘I just kind of fell through the cracks really, but in fairness as soon as someone in my actual school spoke with me, she sorted it the same day’.

Liam has said: ‘I don’t think they are personally to blame; I just think it’s a symptom of a much bigger problem really. I’m putting it down to official policies just not working properly because of the pandemic. It’s more just frustrating that I’ve had to go through something like this again, and that I’ve found myself having to try get out of a situation I shouldn’t even have found myself in’.

Liam credits the support he has received from the school throughout his time at Leeds, offering: ‘it’s not that the support isn’t there… it’s just not always easy to know where to go to find it, especially now there’s no face to face contact’.

The Sutton Trust, on assessing the impact of the pandemic on University Access and Students Finance, found that 33% of students were unsure about the provisions offered by their universities to support those experiencing financial hardship.

The Leeds Hardship Fund does offer support to both undergraduate and postgraduate students that are struggling as a result of ‘unforeseen’ circumstances. Applications are assessed by comparing income with allowable expenditure, offering between £50 and £3,500 in support.  

Whilst this fund is available to all students, certain situations are specifically not accepted as being ‘unforeseen’, including for example ‘reduced earnings when hours/wages were not guaranteed by a contract’.  The University’s information page for the fund makes no reference to hardships that have arisen specifically as a result of the ongoing pandemic. 

A spokesperson for the University of Leeds has said: “Because of the exceptional circumstances in this case, the University has come to an accommodation with Mr Knights and he will now be graduating to the normal timetable. We always encourage students to get in touch if they are experiencing difficulties and strive to arrive at solutions together. ‘’As he explains in the video he made with us, Mr Knights received significant scholarship funding to support his studies. We wish him the very best for the future.”

Liam is passionate about improving access to higher education and has said that he ‘hopes this situation can be used to help everyone going forward’.

He has offered to return the £2,870 his fundraiser received to the donors requesting a refund.  The remainder of the funds will be donated to Inn Churches Bradford, who provide emergency shelter to a limited number of the city’s homeless people throughout the winter months. 

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