Two in three students do not think government is acting in their best interests

A Manchester student in an occupied block of accomodation looking out at red flare smoke

Nearly two in three students do not think the government is acting in their best interests and it has not adequately considered the difficulties they may face as a result of coronavirus (Covid-19), a survey suggests.

Political awakening

A growing proportion (52%) of students say they feel more political due to coronavirus, according to the poll by the National Union of Students (NUS).

Larissa Kennedy, the NUS national president, said the government’s failures were “politicising a generation” and prompting rent strikes across the country as anger grows among the student population. She said:

Whether it be the A-levels fiasco, the masses of student lockdowns or the financial exploitation students are facing, we are fed up and acutely aware that the problems arising are indicative of foundational flaws in our education system that this Government has failed to reckon with

Last month, thousands of students at the University of Manchester were awarded a 30% rent reduction amid ongoing strikes after face-to-face classes were halted and there were issues with accommodation. Protests also erupted when a fence was erected around campus halls as the second lockdown began without students being consulted.

No consideration

The survey of 4,193 students in November suggests that 65% do not agree that the UK government has adequately considered the difficulties that students may face as a result of coronavirus.

Read on...

Meanwhile, 63% do not feel confident that the UK government is acting in their best interests.

The findings come as universities were told to move teaching online in the final days of term to allow students to travel home safely for Christmas.

In July, 46% of students surveyed by the NUS said they felt more political as a result of coronavirus. But in November, this figure rose to just over half (52%).

The poll was carried out before the Department for Education (DfE) published advice for universities to stagger the return of students over five weeks in the new year to reduce the transmission of coronavirus.

Medical students and those on placements or practical courses with a need for in-person teaching in England should return to university between 4 January and 18 January, according to the guidance. But the remaining students should be offered online lessons from the beginning of term – and the advice says they should only return to their university gradually over a two-week period from 25 January.

Government response

A Department for Education spokesperson responded:

We understand this has been a very difficult time for students, which is why we have prioritised their education and wellbeing from the start of this pandemic, supporting universities to provide a blend of online and in-person learning in a Covid-secure way.

The Government has recently announced up to £20 million to help students most in need of support in these exceptional circumstances, in addition to work with the Office for Students to enable universities to draw upon existing funding of £256 million to help those facing financial hardship.

We also worked closely with the Office for Students, providing up to £3 million to fund the mental health platform, Student Space, which is designed to work alongside university and NHS services.

Guidance

Nearly four in five (78%) of students say they have adhered to the government’s guidelines on restricted social interactions – and only 4% said they, or someone else they know, have received a penalty for breaking government guidance, according to the NUS poll.

Kennedy said:

It has been a year since this Government came to power, and they have consistently ignored the needs of students.

Students deserve better than this, and we need the Government to rectify their failings, starting by providing financial support to get money back in students’ pockets, investing in mental health services and in the digital infrastructure needed to make online learning more accessible.

These findings should come as a stark warning to the Government.

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