NUS has been encouraging students and students’ unions to hold Town Hall meetings with MPs, so that students can share their experiences, and put forward their demands directly to them.
This is also being supported by a programme of action being led by grassroots student organisers throughout the week to demand that the government provide them with financial support, and that universities and colleges meet their demands – including rent rebates.
Research by the NUS has shown that 20 percent of students did not think that they would be able to pay their rent and essential bills this term, and 3 in 4 students were anxious about paying their rent this term.
Students are no different to the wider community and have been affected in many of the same ways by this pandemic. Many students have lost employment and now find themselves in rent arrears.
NUS is calling for the government to take urgent action by:
- Providing funding to colleges and universities to be directed towards hardship funds
- Investing to eradicate digital poverty and ensure that students have the technology they need to learn, including free internet access
- Introducing financial support for students during lockdown periods
- Providing students with the right to leave accommodation contracts without any financial detriment
- Directing funding towards students’ unions to empower students to shape decisions.
NUS is also calling for measures to create a lifelong, funded, accessible and democratic education system, including:
- Reintroduce non-repayable, means-tested maintenance grants, and set eligibility for these at previous levels plus inflationary increases
- Greater investment into adult education, and all adult education funding invested into the further education sector to be ring-fenced for this purpose
- All Equivalent or Lower Qualification (ELQ) funding restrictions should be removed through all levels of education
- Raise the base funding rate for 16- and 17-year-olds in further education to at least £4,760
- Extend the maximum student loan eligibility to enable all students to afford basic living costs without reliance on part-time employment
- Greater investment in NHS children and young people’s mental health services.
Commenting ahead of the spending review, Larissa Kennedy, NUS National President, said:
“The treatment of students during this pandemic is not an anomaly, it is indicative of an education system rotting at its core, with this being just the latest manifestation of the tyranny of the marketised university, which is forced to prioritise profit above all else.
“Students need support now. They deserve better than the meagre measures they have been offered so far and need urgent support to prevent a worsening mental health crisis, students turning to foodbanks for their next meal and a lack of access to education.
“On top of exposing and exacerbating some of the systemic challenges for students, COVID-19 has also created an urgent need for greater support. The spending review must look to the future and secure students’ present. The most important measures for this will be ensuring that students have the financial support that they require to cope with the effects of this pandemic.
“We need a new education system, built on the principles of being lifelong, fully-funded, accessible and democratic. We must put students at the heart of this vision.
“Access to education will be a lifeline for so many throughout this pandemic. Our education system must set communities up to succeed as, for too many, it does not currently.”
Isaac Hanson, Chair of Liberate the University and Students Deserve Better organiser, said:
“Since the COVID pandemic began in earnest in March, our universities’ management have shown a flagrant disregard for student welfare and internal democracy. Students and staff alike were left in the dark for months as decisions were made that not only fundamentally altered our teaching and learning experiences but put our lives at risk. Since returning to university, students across the country have demanded answers and concessions from our institutions, but these cries have fallen on deaf ears. Next week we’re standing together to ensure our voices are too loud to ignore.”