Image Credit: The NUS
Last week, YUSU Academic Officer, Giang Nguyen, announced in Facebook post on behalf of the whole YUSU Sabbatical team that YUSU has chosen to join the NUS’s National Student Safety Net Campaign, which, unlike the University’s safety net, aims to provide students across the country with financial relief, as well as options regarding this academic year.
Highlighting this difference, YUSU President Samara Jones stated on her official Facebook account that: “this is not the same thing as the UoY Safety Net policy. The UoY UG Safety Net is based on previous assessments to calculate your safety net score. The NUS Campaign is using the term Safety Net in terms of fees, debt and options relating to retaking the year, and calling for Governmental decisions”.
The campaign is fighting to give students a choice as to whether they want to ‘re-do’ - an option to retake this past academic year with no additional fees and with maintenance support, ‘reimburse’ - the option to get a reimbursement of fees from this academic year from the Government, or ‘write off’ - the option to write off the debt for this academic year, again coming from the Government.
Not only is the campaign focussing on current students, but it also takes into account the heavy effect of the pandemic on students who are leaving education, so subsequently a part of this campaign is fighting for a financial support package for those who are leaving higher education. This will include “grants to ensure they get access to additional training and skills development”, as is quoted on the NUS’s official website.
Additionally, the scheme is aiming to highlight to the Government, as Nguyen told Nouse, “that the impact of COVID-19 will not be felt equally with those on placements and disabled students feeling the impact particularly severely”. Therefore, those who fall under these categories must be given extra support.
Students across the country are welcoming these options, as not only has this academic year’s teaching been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also from the last two waves of UCU (University and College Union) strikes which also affected the amount of contact hours students have received this academic year.
The NUS published on their website that their “recent survey of almost 10,000 students has shown that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our education” and that “74 per cent are worried about the risk to their final qualifications; up to 85 per cent of working students may need additional financial support as incomes drop, and 95 per cent of students expressed fears about the impact of the virus on the wider economy”. This clearly highlights the necessity of campaigns such as this for students nationwide.
Nouse contacted Nguyen for a statement regarding this campaign, and she interestingly highlighted to us that:
“we’re also aware that one of the reasons that universities are acting as they are is due to the lack of support they’re receiving from the Government, too. Universities potentially face billions of pounds in lost tuition fees over the next year - with little to no Government support at this moment in time”. This would highlight that it is not only students who are facing financial difficulties during these times, but also the institutions they are within.
In regard to the options the campaign is offering students, we asked Nguyen what she thought the general consensus amongst students currently is in her opinion, and she said that:
“From conversations we have had with students here, there are mixed opinions on what action students want to take. This has also been found to be the case on a national level. We all come to University for different purposes and with different aspirations; some of us focus on learning, others come to improve our job prospects once we graduate.
“No student is the same and we will all place different values on our experience - hence why some of us will want to retake and others will be happy with reimbursement. That is why we are campaigning for Re-do, Reimburse and Write Off.”
On how students can help make sure this campaign is successful, Nguyen told us:
“Keep talking to your Union! Although the campaign has a rich evidence base shaping its direction, it will be more powerful if we are able to collect your own experiences as students in York. Your experience is valuable - whether you’re a student receiving learning support, an international student, on a bursary, in York or outside of York.
“The Union has been working hard to ensure that the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on students is mitigated where possible, for example, Steph’s work on lobbying local landlords to look at the financial impact, and my pressure on the University to produce a York undergraduate safety net. By continuing to communicate with us about your experiences, we will be able to achieve more.”
We also contacted the Academic Officer-elect, Matt Johnstone, on whether he will continue to support this campaign in the next academic year if it is not successful this year. He told us that he is “committed to doing what's in the best interests for York students. Provided the NUS campaign lines up with that, I'm all for it. If it's unsuccessful then we'll salvage what we can from it and we’ll push further locally rather than nationally.”
Finally, it is clear that students are currently facing difficulties, ranging from financial to mental issues during these times, and this campaign is aiming to unite students’ unions across the country to help mitigate these difficulties. Nguyen believes that students across the country do need heavy reimbursement as a result of COVID-19, stating that:
“Students have been affected and there are groups of students that are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Many are fearful about the impact on learning. Others don't believe the multiple impacts have been acknowledged sufficiently. We understand that universities are facing unprecedented difficulties. Hence, that is why this call is for the government and relevant stakeholders to take action before it is too late.”