A £10 million investment to increase support for university students will be crucial in safeguarding students’ wellbeing during the pandemic, according to the National Union of Students Wales (NUS Wales).
The Welsh Government has announced the extra funding to bolster student mental health services, financial hardship funds, services for self-isolating students, and support for vulnerable students.
Students are facing many challenges during the pandemic, including increased levels of loneliness and isolation because of restrictions on socialising, pressure on their finances due to the loss of part-time jobs, and separation from support networks because of local lockdowns.
Students have now been told not to move between their term-time and home address for the duration of the two-week ‘firebreak’ lockdown.
With uncertainty over coronavirus set to continue over the winter months, NUS Wales is calling on Welsh Government and universities to keep the focus on student mental health.
Responding to the announcement, Becky Ricketts, President of NUS Wales, said:
“We welcome this £10 million investment in the wellbeing of students across Wales. We have worked closely with the Welsh Government to ensure this support will reach those who need it and increase capacity in vital student support services. I am particularly pleased that funding will go to students’ unions, which have worked tirelessly to support students through the pandemic.
“This funding comes at a good time for students who are being asked not to travel home for the firebreak. We support the decision to implement the firebreak to protect NHS Wales and safeguard lives, and urge students to follow the rules to keep themselves and their families safe by staying at their term-time address.
“Since university students are being asked to stay put, maintaining blended learning will give students a sense of normality and routine that should benefit their mental health, but the number one priority must always be the safety of staff and students. All teaching and learning materials must be available online for students who are unable to engage in in-person learning or would prefer to learn remotely. This option must be communicated to students in addition to support to counter digital poverty.
“There remain huge questions to be asked about what the rest of this academic year could look like, in addition to the long-term impact this will have on students. I am pleased that the Welsh Government has started planning for the Christmas break and return to campus in January. I will continue to advocate for students' mental health and believe a long-term strategy for student mental health should be implemented to ensure lasting change."