What steps he is taking to support university students during the covid-19 lockdown announced in January 2021.
18 January 2021
We understand that this is a very difficult and uncertain time for students, and we are working with universities, higher education (HE) institutions, mission groups, unions and professional Sector Bodies 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. Our expectation 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.
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 only due to COVID-19, provided students continue to engage with their HE 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 2020/21 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. I have also set up a sub-group of the HE taskforce to ensure there is appropriate focus on this important matter. To support with this further, 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 COVID-19. 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 continue to emphasise to Vice Chancellors 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.