Zamzam Ibrahim, National President 2019/20
Liam McCabe, NUS Scotland President 2018/20
Robert Murtagh, NUS Wales President 2019/20
Claire Sosienski Smith, Vice President Higher Education 2019/20
January 2020 saw the world facing the COVID-19 pandemic as initial recorded cases from China spread to the rest of the globe. On 23 March the UK Government announced a national lockdown, with the closure of schools, colleges, universities and many workplaces. Students were told their lessons would be online for the rest of the year and faced uncertainty about their exams, assessments and future studies, as well as paying for accommodation they were no longer living in. In April 2020, NUS Wales joined colleagues in NUS to launch a nationwide campaign for a student safety net seeking help for those affected by disruption to their education during the Coronavirus pandemic.
With a third of students at risk of losing access to education and 85 percent of working students concerned they would need additional financial support as their incomes dropped across the UK, we lobbied the government for student support in all nations. We asked for a national hardship fund for all students (including Higher Education, Further Education, and apprentices), a financial support package for those leaving education, and the opportunity to redo, reimburse or write-off the year. At the time of launching the campaign, the government had provided little help to students, despite increasing evidence of urgent need.
We released a survey of nearly 10,000 students in April 2020 which showed that Covid-19 had wreaked havoc on education. We found 78% of students in Wales were worried about their finances and 91% are concerned about the long-term impact on the economy. 73% of students in Wales had doubts about their ability to pay rent because of the lockdown, and almost half said the income of someone they depend on financially has been impacted by COVID-19. It also found almost half of working students in Wales have seen their income reduced in some way because of the virus. Meanwhile from across the UK student officers told us how #COVID19 has impacted their education, and explained what support was needed from the government.
We subsequently set up a Student Complaint Chain in June 2020, following thousands of students participating in our #SpaceToStudy challenge in May, urging the government to act nationally, recognise the problem and provide a systemic solution. We asked students, students’ unions and beyond to support the campaign by sharing our demands using our campaign assets and #StudentSafetyNet on social media.
• £50,000 to every SU in Wales and £5 million for student hardship as part of a £10 million package to support student mental health through the pandemic.
The Student Safety Net campaign forced the Welsh government to make £50,000 available to every students’ union in Wales for student hardship and got Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), Office for Students (OfS) and the government to concede that students not receiving adequate education were eligible for refunds and to redo the academic year. £50m was also put back in students’ pockets by securing early release from tenancies due to a term-time lockdown and we’ve secured a continued commitment from the Welsh government to tackle digital poverty through a £3m investment.
Nationally nearly 4,000 students signed up to the student complaint chain action and 49% of students reported awareness of this campaign and actions in support of students.
Our focus more recently has been on how students can safely return to campus. Working closely with students’ unions and having regular calls with sabbatical officers, means we have been able to develop informed guidance for students’ unions.
NUS will continue to work in partnership with students’ unions to defend the rights of students during the pandemic. On 29 September 2020, we announced our #Studentsdeservebetter campaign, including national demands to uphold students’ basic legal rights, the right for students to leave institutions without financial detriment, fair treatment during accommodation lockdowns and an effective strategy for education now and in the post-covid recovery.
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