Thousands of students will benefit from an additional £50 million to support them with financial pressures from the pandemic, the Universities Minister has announced today (2 February).
Today’s announcement is in addition to the £20 million announced in December, bringing the total to £70 million for this financial year.
The new funding means that universities will be able to help students impacted by the pandemic, for example those facing additional costs for alternative accommodation, loss of employment, or extra costs to access their teaching online. Universities will distribute the funding and will be able to prioritise the funding to those most in need of help.
The increased financial support comes as the majority of students have been asked to continue their studies remotely, as part of measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus.
This announcement follows the decision from many universities and accommodation providers to offer rent rebates for students who need stay away from their term-time address. The Government has encouraged others to join them and offer students partial refunds.
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:
“This continues to be an incredibly difficult and challenging time for our students, and I am hugely grateful to all the university staff working hard to prioritise their health, wellbeing and learning during this pandemic.
“The additional £50 million 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 additional support will provide real, tangible help for those students struggling financially as a result of the pandemic.
“We will continue to prioritise a full return to education as soon possible, in line with public health advice. I am also working with universities and professional bodies to ensure students can graduate as planned.”
The Government also welcomes the decision from many universities and accommodation providers to offer rent rebates for students who need stay away from their term-time address, and encourages other to join them and offer students partial refunds. It asks all providers of student accommodation including universities, to make sure their rental policies have students’ best interests at heart and are communicated clearly.
The funding will be distributed by the Office for Students directly to universities, which are best placed to assess student hardship locally. Universities will be able to help students, including international students, impacted by the pandemic, for example those facing additional costs arising from having to maintain accommodation in more than one location, or an inability to maintain employment, such as a job based close to their term-time accommodation for which they cannot access the furlough scheme, or to support students to access teaching remotely.
The Government continues to monitor the situation and the impact of the funding.
Students facing financial hardship are encouraged to contact their university or higher education provider if they find themselves facing financial difficulties related to Covid-19.
Responding to the government’s announcement of additional student hardship funding, Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:
“Financial hardship has been a growing problem throughout this pandemic, significantly affecting students’ mental health and their chances of progression. The government’s recognition of this through a further £50 million of funding this term is therefore a positive step, and universities will do all they can to ensure the funding reaches the students most in need.”
“While the additional funding is welcome, the government must also acknowledge that student hardship is just one of many increasingly difficult issues facing students, universities and staff at this time. As the serious mental health impact of the pandemic continues to be felt, universities need further funding to alleviate the substantial increases in demand that university wellbeing and support services are experiencing.”
“Although university staff are making huge efforts to offer high quality online learning, the government should provide support that recognises that students are missing out on the wider student experience that they would benefit from in a normal year.”
In response to the Government’s announcement of an additional £50m for student hardship funding, NUS National President Larissa Kennedy said:
“This announcement is a testament to the hard work and campaigning of students and students’ unions. Many students are currently under extreme financial pressure as a result of the pandemic: they are falling behind on their rent and bills, and needing to access food banks.
However, this will not be enough to tackle the scale of the issue. If Westminster did the right thing and matched the hardship funding being made available in Wales for students the amount needed would be more than £700m.
The pandemic has exposed the flaws at the core of our education system – it functions at the expense of students’ mental health and wellbeing, and through our financial exploitation. Many students will still be paying rent for housing they can’t access or can’t afford – to deliver true economic justice, the Treasury must underwrite this.
We also need a long term solution to ensure that no student suffers in this way again. The Government must adopt a new vision for education, starting with a return to maintenance grant funding and a boost in how much students can access, redressing extortionate housing costs, and moving towards fully funded education so students are never pushed into these kinds of dire financial situations.”
Emma Hardy MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Universities, commenting on the Government’s announcement of funding to support university students, said:
“Students are facing unprecedented financial hardship. Thousands of students remain locked out of the jobs they need to support themselves and the Government continues to trail far behind the Welsh Labour government in ensuring student hardship support.
“The Government’s failure to control the spread of the virus is denying students the university experience they deserve. It is clearly unjust that many students are paying for services they are unable to access during lockdown.”