YUSU meets with Universities Minister


Key issues discussed were hardship funding and refunds

Article Image

Image by John Husband

By Emily Hewat

Last week the YUSU team interviewed the UK’s university minister, Michelle Donelan, to discuss student funding, tuition fees and visas. Nouse spoke with them to discuss the key points that were covered.

The main issue that was brought up was hardship funding. £70 million is currently available to university students in England which equates to roughly £25 per student. In comparison, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have provided £500 per student. It was also pointed out to the minister that students are unable to receive Universal Credit and many have lost part time jobs.

The university minister made no direct promises but did signal that there have been talks about a potential increase in hardship funding in the coming months.

The YUSU team were disappointed that universities have been expected to provide short term support on their own given that their costs have not gone down. The university minister has asked that those who live in private accommodation, and on campuses, should receive rent refunds if they are unable to use their accommodation but offered no solution as to where this money should come from.

Donelan also resolutely stated that students would not be receiving tuition fee refunds from the government.Yet,in the past, she has said that students deserve compensation if their degree was not to the standard they were expecting. The Prime Minister referenced tuition fee refunds when questioned last week in the House of Commons, demanding that students need compensation. However, no direction was given as to where the money would come from. The university minister told the YUSU team that “I appreciate the problems have not gone away and huge cohorts of students cannot go back to campus.”

The YUSU president suggested to Nouse that hardship funding was easier to ask for than tuition fee reductions and was, therefore, more likely. But, it was also pointed out that the money universities have saved from campus buildings is not being used, such as from heating and lighting. This could potentially be given to students in the short term rather than being used on new facilities that current students will not be able to use.

The president of the Graduates Student Association was also at the meeting and asked the university minister about support for international students. Currently, if international students do choose to return to the UK they will have to pay for their own quarantine costs and will potentially receive vaccines later than their UK counterparts which could complicate their return to campus in future months. The minister acknowledged that these problems would need to be considered and spoke of strengthening the visas that allow international students to work in the UK for two years after they graduate.

This lack of funding in all areas is the key concern at the moment for student unions. Neither the government or universities are currently taking responsibility for students and, until that happens, the likelihood of students receiving significant financial support is unlikely. The university minister has repeatedly insisted that students should complain directly if they aren’t having the experience they expected. However, the YUSU president explained to Nouse that students must direct their anger to those in charge rather than their lecturers or, as seen on Yorfess in recent weeks, students on different degrees to their own.