Writing in the Express on Tuesday, 2 February, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan set out her reasons for providing an extra £50m to support students during the pandemic.
This past year has been incredibly difficult for us all, and I know I am not alone in saying this is not the experience anyone wanted for our students at this important stage in their lives.
Keeping students as safe and supported as possible during this pandemic continues to be my top priority. That was why we made the difficult decision back in December to ask the majority of students to remain away from campus and continue their studies remotely.
This decision was not taken lightly and I am fully aware of the impact it may have had on students’ finances, particularly those facing additional costs arising from having accommodation in more than one place. I also know some students will be struggling with lost income from a part-time job or with costs for their online learning.
It is because of these impacts that we are providing an additional £50 million for this financial year to help those students struggling financially during the pandemic. This funding builds on the £20 million we provided in December, bringing the total to £70 million to be used by April. It is also on top of the existing £256 million student premium, which universities can access for student support in the academic year.
I recognise the challenges students face are often complex and I want to make sure this funding is used as effectively as possible to give the tangible support that students need.
The new funding will be distributed by the Office for Students to universities, who know their students best and will be able to allocate it to those who need it most. Students who are struggling with costs from the pandemic should contact their university to find out if they can get help.
This funding however, is just one part of efforts to keep students safe and supported, which must continue to be a national effort.
I welcome the news that many accommodation providers and universities have already offered rent refunds, and I am incredibly impressed by our university staff who have been working tirelessly to protect students’ wellbeing and their education.
However I urge all universities and large-scale private accommodation providers that have not yet done so to also consider offering students refunds or other financial compensation. We are asking all providers of student accommodation to make sure their policies have students’ best interests at heart and that they communicate them clearly and ensure their terms are fair.
This Government will continue to do everything we can, in line with the latest scientific advice, to get students a full return to education, and back to reaping the full benefits of university life.