On Easter Monday, the Prime Minister confirmed the 12th April reopening of a host of different sectors, from public libraries, to self-catered holiday accommodation, to spas. But university students were omitted from his statement, and those not on practical courses remain no clearer about whether or not they will be returning to campuses or face-to-face teaching this academic year.
In Sheffield, we have two excellent universities and we’re home to over 60,000 students. With teaching set to recommence from 19th April, it’s outrageous that the institutions and student communities have no information about whether or not this will continue solely online for those not studying on practical courses. I coordinated a letter signed by all Sheffield’s Labour MPs, demanding an urgent announcement from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students, I read testimony from the hundreds of students submitted their views to our APPG for Students inquiry on the impact of Covid-19. Alongside their specific concerns, they made it clear that they felt that their voices were not being heard, and that they were being forgotten. I wrote to Boris Johnson to demand not only an urgent plan for the rest of the academic year, published alongside the Covid-19 data points criteria on which it is based, but arrangements for financial support.
Since the Universities Minister’s open letter to students on 22nd February, with its promise to ‘review’ outstanding students’ return during the Easter holidays, there’s been radio silence from government. With no clarity on return, alongside the imminent expiry of hardship funding that the Minister promised was for ‘three months only’, it is vital that government make a new plan – and publish it now.