To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the (1) emotional, and (2) social, impact on university students of remote learning; whether they plan to prioritise the return of such students to classrooms or other physical settings within the next six weeks; and if not, why not.
24 February 2021
Protecting student wellbeing is vital, and we recognise that many students are facing additional mental health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why we have asked providers to prioritise student mental health during this period. The Student Mental Health and Wellbeing working group, convened by my hon. Friend, the Minister of State for Universities, has discussed the emotional and social impact of the pandemic on students in detail and has created a resources document for higher education providers, collating the guidance, tools, and services available to support students’ mental health. This information is now being spread through the networks of the working group members, including university and student representatives, to raise awareness of the support available and enable people to seek help. The Minister of State for Universities also established the Higher Education Taskforce on 18 August 2020, which is formed of various sector representatives to work through challenges that students are facing.
Alongside this, the Office for Students (OfS) has been working closely with the government throughout the pandemic to support students – funding mental health support, monitoring quality, and issuing guidance. We have worked with the OfS to provide Student Space, a mental health and wellbeing platform, which has been funded by up to £3 million. We are pleased that they have been able to extend the platform to support students for the whole 2020/21 academic year, because no student should be left behind at this challenging time.
In the current national lockdown, we have had to take additional steps to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, including by significantly reducing the number of students returning to university after the Christmas holidays, and limiting the number of people travelling to and from university facilities. We are now advising providers that they can resume in-person teaching and education for students who are studying practical or practice-based subjects (including creative arts) and who require specialist equipment and facilities from 8 March 2021. Providers should not ask students to return if their course can reasonably be continued online. The government will review, by the end of the Easter holidays, the options for the timing of the return of remaining students. This review will take account of the latest data and will be a key part of the wider roadmap steps.