As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we spoke to the Universities Minister about the significant impact this year has had on students’ wellbeing, as well as their monetary concerns.
Although the pandemic has been tough on us all, many students have felt that they’ve been among the groups most ignored by the government.
Following the confirmation that students is to be able to be allowed to return to university on Monday 17 th May, and in response to the government’s edicts for Mental Health Awareness Week, we spoke to the Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan.
We grilled her on everything from students’ mental health to the staggering statistic that PS1 billion has been consumed on accommodation that lockdown has rendered impassable- and here’s what she had to say.
Poor communication with students during coronavirus
Earlier this week, the government confirmed that students would be allowed to return in-person to universities on Monday 17 th May. But, for a lot of students, the year is already over- castigates are done and countless might have even finished quizs by that point.
Although we all understand that staying at home was necessary to suppress COVID, numerous students have are of the view that, throughout the pandemic, communication with them from the government has been quite poor.
We’ve heard countless complaints of students feeling ignored by those in charge, so we expected Michelle Donelan what she thought of the suggestion that students always seem to be an afterthought 😛 TAGEND
Well, my first content would be that they’re absolutely not an afterthought at all.
I recognise that some trends have finished once or assessments are done. At the same time, some have not.
And also we wanted to give students the opportunity to return back to university for the broader university experience, such as university accommodation if “theyre trying to”, and that’s why enable it from the 17 th is really important.
We wanted to get students back earlier, absolutely. Nobody even craved the lockdown, but we had to have that to protect the NHS and likewise to combat the spread of the virus. These were necessary measures that were taken in order to achieve that.
It’s been a really difficult year for students, including the impact on their mental health and mental wellbeing, which is one of the reasons why from the very beginning I’ve encouraged and genuinely propagandized universities to move forward on mental health and wellbeing support, and work with the OfS on a PS3 million Student Space project.
In addition, we’ve set up a mental health higher education working group to ensure that students were familiar with all of the resources available.
Monetary support for students during the course of its pandemic
The government has highlighted that PS8 5 million has been made available to help students, on top of the PS256 million they had announced at the beginning of the pandemic. But is that enough?
In our latest National Student Accommodation Survey, the NUS pointed out that if the English government was going to match the Welsh government in terms of hardship fund per student, the amount needed would be over PS700 million.
This is more than doubled what the hell is pledged by the English government.
As well as this, the survey found that an estimated PS1 billion has been squandered by students on accommodation that they couldn’t use, and that includes any pays that had been given.
With students crying out for extra subsidize, why have they instead faced the same PS9, 000+ fees per year and a lack of financial support from the government?
The universities in this country are autonomous in rule. As a government, we provided the maximum level of tuition fees that universities can charge.
Every university during the pandemic has decided to continue to charge that peak, so we’ve been very clear if they are still do that, then we expect the quantity of provision to stay the same, the quality of provision to stay the same, and likewise for it to be accessible for all, including those that are studying remotely- the OfS has been observing that.
Donelan then emphasised that students have the opportunity to make a formal complaint if they have concerns about their university. We explain the process of how to complain and potentially get compensation in our full guide.
In words of accommodation, we have heard from students who have received pays and/ or part rent discounts.
But as we mentioned earlier, there has still been an estimated PS1 billion spent by students on unusable adaptation this academic year. What is the government doing to address this?
On the housing issue, we’ve advocated all student accommodation providers, including universities, to refund coin or make deductions for when students were not able to access it. We’ve seen a number of them come forward and do that.
We’ve gave calamity funding there, but particularly for those that are not able to access that.
So some students may have a private landowner that only has one or two dimensions, relies on that for their income,[ and] they haven’t been able to refund students. And if that have put forward fiscal hardship to the student, I would urge them to go to the university, apply for the rigour funding.
UUK estimate that the average[ sum of] money that is awarded to a student is to the tune of about PS1, 000, so we are talking substantial chassis. And we said all along that students should be able to keep applying to hardship fund- it shouldn’t be like a one-application plan at all.
We’ve developed in partnership some gratuities for any students who are struggling to get by at uni. Mental state expressed support for students
In Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, the authorities concerned announced new mental health support for university students. But from what we could see, this seemed to simply are comprised of a roundtable on suicide avoidance, rather than definite varies such as increased funding for support services.
If mental health and suicide prevention is such a priority for the government, why hasn’t there been any significant- or in a number of cases, any- extra funding for mental health services?
Michelle Donelan assured us “that theres” funding 😛 TAGEND
There certainly has been some extra funding. So the government pledged PS500 million to support children and young people’s mental health.
PS1 3 million of that was announced a few weeks ago, which will support young people up to the age of 25, so could be university students with that change from children’s mental health support, all the way to adults’ mental health support. And that’s just one example of the additional funding that has been given.
As she had mentioned earlier, Donelan too referred to Student Space, the PS3 million assignment which, she said, “adds in and fills in some of the chinks during the pandemic”.
Donelan continued 😛 TAGEND
And too moving forward to next year, we have included in this strategic priorities grant.
That’s the money that comes from the taxpayer to universities, like a PS15 million flowerpot to support mental health in particular, with the transition from clas or college to universities, bearing in mind how difficult it will be this year, given the pandemic.
Year after time, our overlooks is my finding that Maintenance Loans aren’t stretching far enough to cover students’ livings penalties, leaving too many to pursue its efforts to get by.
In fact, our recent National Student Money Survey found that 71% worry about meeting missions gratify and on average, students’ living overheads work out as PS223 more a month than they receive from their Maintenance Loan.
On top of this, 58% of students in the survey said that their mental health suffers as a result of coin issues.
At Save the Student, it’s clear to us that the Maintenance Loan is not big enough and converts are urgently needed.
We expected Michelle Donelan whether the government accepts that the maximum Maintenance Loan isn’t big enough? And more importantly, are they planning to do anything about it?
We’ve ever acknowledged that it isn’t designed to pay for all of the costs that a student may face- it’s a contribution, and that’s why it’s means-tested based on parental or carer income.
However, that said, we obstruct all of these things under refresh, absolutely.
But during the pandemic, we’re talking about real specific and different challenges that university students have faced. As you pointed out,[ there have been] adversities around accommodation, or potentially not being able to work at this time, because the sectors have closed in the lockdown.
And that’s exactly why we held universities PS85 million of added money so that they could reinforce students with rigor money at this time.
This didn’t ease our concerns. When looking at the maximum possible Maintenance Loan( for a student living in London, away from their parents) that is, give or make, roughly the same as an annual minimum wages chore for someone senility 18 or over.
And for someone aged 21 or over, the income from a minimum wages hassle would be higher.
So in most cases, the amount of Maintenance Loan that a student goes, even if they are completely estranged from their parents, is not the same as a minimum wage. How are students expected to survive on that?
So, as I said, it is designed to be a contribution with top-ups presented from people’s parents or from themselves doing part-time jobs.
It isn’t meant to be all-encompassing. The overhead that every student will face will run even within London or within the same city, will vary depending on their accommodation options and the nature of their routes, etc.
But during the pandemic, students have faced additional challenges and difficulties financially. And I completely agree with you on the link between fiscal pressures and mental health, which is one of the reasons why we prioritised getting that PS85 million out of the door speedily so that universities could expedite students at this time.
Here’s our full interrogation with Michelle Donelan 😛 TAGEND
Read more: savethestudent.org