Students at Welsh universities will remain at home until after Easter, following an announcement that all seminars and lectures are to stay online for the rest of term.
Universities Wales, the national council of Universities UK in Wales, said that the decision was “taken at this to provide students with certainty for the coming weeks”.
Only a small number of students taking courses requiring face-to-face teaching will return to campuses before Easter.
In response to the decision, National Union of Students (NUS) president Becky Ricketts said: “This decision has been taken with safety in mind, but it could have been made earlier in the year to help students plan with more certainty.
“Rent rebates for students unable to access their term-time address must be extended until the end of term. This must apply to all students, including those in the private rented sector.
“It would be fundamentally unfair for any students to be paying rent and bills for housing they can’t live in for four months.”
Students at Swansea and Cardiff universities have been asked not to return to campus until the end of term on 26 March.
This decision has been taken with safety in mind, but it could have been made earlier in the year to help students plan with more certainty
– Becky Ricketts
Many students at Welsh universities have expressed their frustration over the decision.
Abbie Baker, a first-year tourism management student at Swansea University, expressed the emotional impact of hearing she would not be able to return to campus before Easter.
“The stress of university being online and not knowing what’s happening really gets to you, and then you just break. Although we couldn’t socialise with other students, I still had a sense of freedom there,” she said.
Shreshth Goel is an international student at Cardiff University who was not able to fly back to India over Christmas.
By the time his housemates are able to return to university, he will have spent four months living alone, describing his experience so far as “really, really lonely”.
“Sometimes it gets to you – because there’s a lot of other things going on like pressure on assignments – but there has been support too,” he said.
Swansea University have said they are “committed to doing everything we can to support [students] during this time” and that they are ensuring students “can continue to receive a high-quality education and safeguard the value of their degree”.
A spokesperson for Universities Wales said: “We recognise that this is a difficult time for everyone. Student and staff wellbeing remains a key priority for universities in Wales and we would encourage any student experiencing difficulties or hardship to talk to their institution.”
In January, it was announced that the Welsh Government will allocate £40 million extra to support students facing financial hardship.
A Cardiff University spokesperson said: “We are currently working with other universities in Wales to establish a simple and fair way of getting those funds to students in both our own and private sector accommodation.”