The government recognises that this academic year has been incredibly difficult for students. We asked most students not to return to campus at the beginning of this term because of the need to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and because of concern about the effect of the coronavirus variant. This has prevented many students from reoccupying their term-time accommodation following the Christmas break. Many students remain at their non-term-time locations and are accessing their teaching online at present. As a result of these exceptional circumstances, some students are facing financial hardship, with some now incurring additional costs at their alternative address. These challenges were acknowledged by the Prime Minister on 7 January.
I have now announced that we will be making available an additional £50m of hardship funding this financial year. In total we have made £70m of funding available for student hardship given the £20m made available to higher education providers in December. The funding will be distributed by the Office for Students to universities, who will have flexibility in how they award the funding to students, including international students, in a way that will best prioritise those in greatest need. Providers are best placed to assess student hardship locally. As an example, support might include assistance for students facing additional costs arising from having to maintain accommodation in more than one location, or an inability to maintain their employment – potentially in a job based close to their term-time accommodation – if they are not able to access the Coronavirus Job Retention Support Scheme (CJRS). Alternatively, support may include help for students to access teaching remotely, or for students who have already applied for hardship funding previously but now need additional support. We are working with the Office for Students to allocate these funds and further detail will be set out in due course.
I am extremely grateful for the work universities and other higher education providers are doing to support students during these unprecedented times. This funding will allow providers to build on measures that are already in place.
I welcome the news that a number of universities and large accommodation providers have already offered rent refunds for students who have been asked to stay away from their accommodation. Whilst universities and private accommodation providers are autonomous and responsible for setting their own rental agreements, the government is encouraging universities and large-scale private accommodation providers that have not yet done so to offer refunds or other financial compensation. The government is also encouraging all providers of student accommodation to make sure their accommodation policies have students’ best interests at heart. We also urge them to communicate their policies clearly and to be fair.
I realise that this year has been incredibly difficult for students, staff and their families, and I want to assure them that their welfare is our top priority. The measures set out here aim to target support at those students with the greatest need and we will continue to monitor the situation to look at what impact this funding is having. I want to thank universities for their tireless work to ensure that students do not have to put their lives or academic journeys on hold.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords