The UK government have committed to giving an additional £50 million to help support students who are struggling financially due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns.
The funding is being made available after many universities have experiences student unrest with a wave of rent strikes and other protests. Many students are still at home during this third national lockdown while having to pay for unused university term-time accommodation, and have to access teaching and learning remotely online.
This follows the funding package from December of £20 million targeted at students who are most in need. This included those struggling to meet costs for alternative accommodation and those struggling to access online teaching and learning.
The university sector, including vice-chancellors, staff, and students, have welcomed the new funding, but say that it is still not enough to meet all the challenges. This comes as calls have grown for tuition fee refunds and growing student anger at the quality and limitations of an online university education and experience.
Larissa Kennedy, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: “This will not be enough to tackle the scale of the issue.”
The general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), Dr Jo Grady, said: “Small-scale funding packages like this are simply a sticking plaster and not the answer to the widespread problems facing the sector.”
Seven vice-chancellors have sent an open letter to the government asking for a 15-month interest waiver on students’ tuition fee repayments. They also recommend the government makes skills funding available for short-term qualifications to help improve unemployed graduates’ job prospects.
The vice-chancellors of the universities of Essex, Goldsmiths, Kent, East Anglia, Sussex, Reading, and the Principle of Royal Holloway said: “The pandemic has placed unprecedented pressures on our students. In some universities, demands for hardship funds have increased by over 100%. As a result of the pandemic, students also face extraordinary mental health challenges and 18% of students lack access to a computer, laptop or tablet. Additional government support is an urgent priority.”
Small-scale funding packages like this are simply a sticking plaster and not the answer to the widespread problems facing the sector
–Dr Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union
They added: “For a second year in a row, all of our students will be entering into a desperately challenging job market. Our universities want to play a full part in supporting graduates in their transition to work or further study.”
They concluded their open letter by expressing their hope that the government makes sure that “university students are not forgotten or left behind”.
Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said “The additional £50m that we are announcing today will mean we have distributed £70m for hardship in this financial year alone – on top of the £256m of government-funded student premium which universities can use for student support this academic year.”
This comes as last week a cross-party group of MPs and peers called on the government to more than double financial support to university students in England, which would potentially amount to £700 million.