LUU Exec Demand MPs Voice Student Concerns in Coronavirus Crisis

As the novel coronavirus spread around the world, affected millions of the people’s lives, and forced Universities and schools to shut down across the country, the Government has claimed it is striving to do all that it can to help those groups and individuals who are being worst affected by lockdown. 

However, amid the chaos, it is apparent that one group has been overlooked in the plans to help those struggling among the outbreak. According to a survey conducted by NUS, only 35% of students feel as if the government has supported them through this hard time.

Lockdown in the UK and other countries has left thousands of students at the University of Leeds and across the country facing worries over finances, assessment performances, and for those graduating, career prospects. 

Lara, a Communications and Media Masters student at the University of Leeds, said that she feels as if ‘students as a group have been forgotten about by the Government’, which may be due to ‘the assumption that with student loans and family, students will be ok but that is not the case for all’. 

There are worries about graduating in a period of uncertainty. Lucy Clough, a final year English student from the University of Leeds, told The Gryphon many ‘graduate jobs aren’t hiring at the moment as they can’t hold interviews. It makes the chance of getting a job even slimmer than it was in the first place. We get our degrees and it’s a ‘now what?’ state of affairs’.

She went on to say that she thinks tuition fees should be reimbursed for the academic year 2019-20. She argued that “the disruption caused by the ongoing UCU strikes and Coronavirus has meant that 2020 graduates have missed a large amount of tuition over the past year”. 

Another alternative she proposed was that “they could consider making the price of a Masters course lower…but I feel like this could be an unrealistic ask”. 

On top of this, the much looked-forward-to graduations have been postponed or canceled across the country, leaving thousands disappointed. 

Many have questioned why they should pay the full fee for this academic year and are calling for the Government to address this issue. Students are also concerned about tenancies as many student homes are left empty throughout this crisis, but bills and payments still have to be made. 

This comes as some students have lost jobs as a result of coronavirus and therefore left without the income they usually use to pay bills and rent, particularly when student loans do not always cover the cost of living.

Kicca McDermid, a 19-year-old Criminology student, feels ‘more consideration needs to be taken into account with students paying rent when they aren’t there’. 

They feel ‘a more general guideline that applies to everyone is needed, instead of some people’s rent being cancelled or reduced, as many still have to pay in full’. 

They also said “more needs to be done to help those with disabilities and those in difficult situations, for example, students who are also parents, who still have to complete work whilst looking after their children’. 

On the 2nd April, a letter was signed by 109 colleagues from all parties, and urged the Government to take action on student exams, rent and lost earnings. However, at the time of writing, the Government is yet to respond.

Since then, the Leeds University Union’s execs have written to Leeds MPs, including Alex Sobel, Hilary Benn, Rachel Reeves, Fabian Hamilton and Richard Burgon, urging them to bring student concerns up with the Department of Education to encourage Government action in students’ interests. 

Amy Wells, the Welfare Officer at LUU, told The Gryphon that she’s ‘seeing so much anxiety about lots of things at the moment’ from a lack of clear guidance on assessment alterations to landlords being uncooperative to the unfairness of being in debt for this year’s disruption. 

In the letter, the Exec argue that they ‘recognise that these are national issues that need Government attention, and student faith in this Government is currently very low’ and they ‘hope the MPs will raise our concerns in Parliament, in any way that they can’. 

The execs have six main issues that they would like to be put to parliament.

Student debt cancellation and frozen interest rates 

The Coronavirus has greatly disrupted teaching, with all teaching moving online or stopping altogether. In a hope to give students affected the best financial chance after University, the NUS are calling for both debt cancellation and frozen interest rates in a hope to mitigate the crisis’ impacts. 

The quality and inclusivity of online education

Students are concerned about the effect that the coronavirus will have on their education and results. The execs are backing the NUS’ call to provide students with a chance to redo the year if they wish, and for free of charge. 

Financial hardship and a package of financial support for international students

According to an NUS survey, 55% of respondents reported having their finances impacted by furlough, unpaid leave, hour reductions and redundancy. Many students are in financially difficult situations after losing part time jobs and not being eligible for Government schemes. Furthermore, International students pay ‘extortionate fees’ to study in the UK and a package for financial support should be put in place to support them. 

Strongly advocate for the return of maintenance grants

This would help to cover living costs and fees whilst at University. 

Issues in privately rented accommodation

There are concerns about the ‘lack of flexibility reported from landlords and letting agents’. The execs are asking MPs to encourage Leeds landlords to take mortgage holidays if possible, in a hope that ‘mutually agreeable solutions’ between students and landlords can be made. 

Opportunities for employment must be created

With a likely financial recession ahead, many students face anxieties about graduation and the prospects of gaining a career. The execs are calling for action regarding employment. 

So far only Leeds North West MP and Shadow Arts, Heritage and Tourism Parliamentary Under Secretary Alex Sobel has responded.

Action is essential to provide students and institutions with long-term support. Without it, there is great uncertainty for Universities and students across the world. 

However, Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, believes that ‘the Government is doing all it can to keep staff and students at our universities safe during this unprecedented situation, while mitigating the impact on people’s education’. 

‘Universities are independent and unlike schools they are responsible for the decisions they take in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Action taken by one university might not be best for another. The Government will support the sector to do what is best for students up and down the country’. 

This then begs the question as to if the current Government support is enough, and if a change is needed in order to address the student concerns. 

Main image credited to George Stamets. See more of his photos on Flickr, Instagram or website.