I have siged the letter below to Universities Minister Michelle Donelan. It has been coordinated by my colleague Paul Blomfield MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students and signed by 110 MPs and Peers from every party represented in Westminster.
Students in Bristol have raised many of these urgent problems with me directly, so I will continue to work with the University, accommodation providers and government ministers to resolve them as quickly as possible.
2 April 2020
I am writing as the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary for Students, with colleagues from all parties, to raise the concerns of those studying in our universities about the consequences of the measures taken to contain the spread of COVID-19. Those concerns fall primarily into three areas, on which we would ask you to act:
Examinations – We welcome the swift action taken by many universities to minimise the impact on study by switching to online teaching, but it cannot fully compensate for the full learning experience otherwise available and some students may not be in the same position to engage in home study as effectively as others. Students are understandably concerned about the impact on their study and on their examinations, particularly those who will be graduating this summer. We would ask you to work with Universities UK, the OfS and the QAA to secure agreement across the sector that students should be given the choice of either (a) being awarded a final degree based on prior achievement, (b) sitting exams remotely within the normal timescale, (c) postpone exams to the autumn, or (d) resitting the year without further fees and with additional financial support.
Accommodation costs – Most students who have been able to do so, have returned to their parental homes and vacated their student accommodation, raising the issue of rent refunds. There seems to have been a range of responses, from both university and private sector providers, to such requests. Some have readily agreed to full or partial refunds, others have offered the option of ending tenancies from specified dates, and others have refused any refund in accordance with contracts. We appreciate that different providers will be in different financial positions, but it is not right that any students should be penalised for complying with public health advice. We would therefore ask you to liaise with universities and private sector providers to ensure that students are fully reimbursed for rent due from the date that they vacated their accommodation, recognising that this may involve financial support from the Government.
Lost earnings – The student funding model that has developed in recent years means that part-time jobs provide essential income to support many students through their studies. These jobs are largely in sectors which have ceased to operate as a result of coronavirus measures. While other workers in these sectors will have the opportunity to claim Universal Credit, and the Government action in lifting the income floor will have assisted many in part-time employment, students are not in this position because the UC rules preclude them from making a claim. Whilst this is right in normal times, the current situation is exceptional and we would ask that the Government temporarily suspend this rule so that students can submit claims for UC for the duration of this crisis.
The Government has acted on the concerns of those in work and self-employment; our students deserve no less. Some are facing these problems more acutely than others – those with disabilities and from lower income households, for example – but all students urgently need clarity on all these issues. So we would ask you to acknowledge the concerns and bring forward proposals to address them without delay.
With best wishes,
Paul Blomfield MP, Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students