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Students: Coronavirus

Question for Department for Education

UIN 136105, tabled on 11 January 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what support he plans to provide for undergraduate students whose university education has been disrupted by the covid-19 outbreak.

Answered on

19 January 2021

We understand that this is a difficult and uncertain time for students, and we are working with the sector to make sure that all reasonable efforts are being made to enable all students to continue their studies and provide the support required for them to do so. Importantly, and following the national lockdown announcement, we have prioritised the return to face-to-face teaching for courses which are most important to be delivered in-person in order to support the pipeline of future key workers. All other courses should be delivered online until at least mid-February. We are working to ensure that all students are able to return to university as soon as it is safe to do so and we will provide further advice on this as soon as we can.

Our expectation, during these challenging times is that universities should maintain the quality and quantity of tuition and the Office for Students (OfS) will continue to actively monitor universities to ensure that quality of provision is maintained and accessible for all. That said, I know the sector has put in significant resources and worked hard to provide and prepare learning materials for this academic year and there are some fantastic and innovative approaches to delivering high-quality online learning.

We are also working with universities and the Professional, Statutory, and Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs) to explore what extra measures they have, or will need, to put in place to ensure that students continue to graduate with PSRB accredited degrees.

Students undertaking courses that would normally require attendance on-site will qualify for loans for living costs in the 2020/21 academic year, even if universities are providing course lectures and/or tutorials online due to the COVID-19 outbreak, provided students continue to engage with their higher education provider.

Students who suspend their studies for a variety of reasons, including shielding, can apply to Student Finance England for their living costs support to be continued while they are absent from their course. Students who suspend their studies due to illness automatically receive living costs support for the first 60 days of their illness.

Students who have applied for a loan for living costs for the 2020/21 academic year and have been awarded a lower amount than the maximum and believe their household income for the current tax year (2020/21) will drop by at least 15% compared to the household income they provided when they were initially assessed, can apply for their entitlement to be reassessed.

In these exceptional circumstances, we recognise that some students may face financial hardship or experience mental health issues. We have asked universities to prioritise mental health support, and ensure that students required to self-isolate receive the support they need. To support with this, we have worked closely with the OfS to help clarify that providers can draw upon existing funding to increase hardship funds and support disadvantaged students impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Providers are able to use OfS Student Premium funding worth around £256 million for this academic year towards student hardship funds. We are also currently making available up to £20 million of additional hardship funding to support those that need it most, particularly disadvantaged students. In addition, the £3 million OfS funded mental health and well-being platform, Student Space, has been extended for the whole of the 2020/21 academic year to provide extra support during these unprecedented times. The platform is designed to work alongside existing services. I also continually engage with Vice Chancellors and sector representatives, reinforcing at every opportunity that student welfare should remain a priority.

We will continue to monitor the situation and adjust sector guidance and support where necessary.