Sheffield Students’ Union are launching a campaign calling on student debt for this academic year to be cancelled, citing the ongoing coronavirus campaign, industrial strikes, and the cost of student living.

The SU Officers have launched a petition addressed to Student Finance England and the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP. Jake Verity, SU President, has also written to a number of South Yorkshire MPs, including Paul Blomfield and Olivia Blake, as well as Dan Jarvis, who is also the Mayor of the Sheffield City Region.

“This academic year has been particularly challenging for our students, with universities’ collective representatives failing to find a solution to prevent strike action; a global pandemic stopping universities across the country functioning as normal; and the costs of living for students reaching a breaking point across the sector,” he wrote.

Jake says a number of students have spoken to the Officer team about their concern about the debt they are responsible for this ear, and he called on the Government to intervene and relieve some of the financial pressure on students.

Jake Verity, during his term as Students’ Union President. (Image: Sheffield Students’ Union)

He also said that the SU believed it was important to ease the financial burden on students working to support the National Health Service through the coronavirus pandemic, by not having to pay tuition fees during this time, and being remunerated in the form of debt cancellation.

Forge Press have been told that the campaign is national, and believes that students across the country should have their debt cancelled, but this branch of the campaign will begin in the Steel City.

Similar work is currently going on at other universities, and in a statement from Jake Verity, released to students, he said the National Union of Students – who elected their new President and Vice-Presidents yesterday – are planning their own campaign on these issues.

“We think it’s important to call for cancelling student debt, as everyone has been impacted very differently this year – and the one thing that unites us all is the vast amounts of student debt that accrues year on year,” Jake added.

“With this, we can get a win for everyone. This campaign needs to be directed at the Government, and to change Higher Education for the better going into the future.”

The SU may be hoping to build on the power which students have shown in the last week, with nearly 6,500 people signing a petition calling on the University of Sheffield to introduce a no-detriment ‘safety net’ policy in light of the global pandemic. Earlier this week, the University announced moves to implement the policy, offering security to students during an insecure time.

As well as the pandemic, which has seen the vast majority of University services move online for the foreseeable future, students across the country have also missed as many as 22 days of teaching this year during two rounds of industrial action.

UCU members at Sheffield University were amongst those at 48 institutions who went on strike in two disputes, one over changes to their pensions, and another over pay equality, casualisation, workloads and more.

The UCU estimated that as many as 1.2 million students were set to be impacted nationwide by the second round of strike action across February and March.

In their current campaign, the Students’ Union is asking for active involvement of students to put pressure on the relevant authorities to cancel student debt for the 2019/20 academic year, and is calling for students to use the hashtag #CancelDebtNotFutures in order to start a student movement over the campaign.

The petition, which has been started on Change.org, can be found here: https://www.change.org/p/student-finance-england-cancel-student-debt-this-academic-year

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