The National Union of Students (NUS) are calling for urgent financial support for students as well as a plan for a new education system at the upcoming spending review.

The NUS are calling for the government to take urgent action by providing funding to colleges and universities directed towards hardship funds. 

In the move to online learning, the NUS are also asking the Government to provide financial support to ensure that all students have the technology they need to learn remotely, including free internet access. 

Larissa Kennedy, NUS National President, said: “On top of exposing and exacerbating some of the systemic challenges for students, Covid-19 has also created an urgent need for greater support.

“The most important measures for this will be ensuring that students have the financial support that they require to cope with the effects of this pandemic.”

Research by the NUS has shown that 20% of students did not think they would be able to pay their rent and essential bills this term, and three in four students were anxious about paying their rent this term.

The NUS are looking for the Government to introduce financial support for students during lockdown periods and providing students with the right to leave accommodation contracts without any financial detriment.

Kennedy continued: “Students need support now. They deserve better than the meagre measures they have been offered so far, and need urgent support to prevent a worsening mental health crisis, students turning to food banks for their next meal and a lack of access to education.”

Also on the NUS agenda is the call for a new education system built on the principles of being lifelong, fully-funded, accessible and democratic.

Kennedy said the treatment of students during this pandemic is “not an anomaly”, calling it indicative of an education system “rotting at its core”. She says the marketised university continues to prioritise profit above all else. 

To create this new education system, the NUS are calling for the reintroduction of means-tested maintenance grants, greater investment into adult education with investment ring-fenced for the purpose, increase in base funding rate for 16-17 year olds and greater investment in young people’s mental health services. 

During a time where part-time employment is unreliable, they are also calling for an extension of the maximum student loan eligibility to enable all students to afford basic living costs without reliance on part-time employment. 

Speaking on the treatment of students during the pandemic, Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, Olivia Blake, told Forge Press: “The government’s failure to get a grip on the situation has meant that the return to campuses was chaotic, and the A-level debacle created an extremely stressful experience for new students.

“Many student renters have also been treated appallingly. The government should have provided funding and guidance for supporting students’ learning, and more direct support for students, too.”

When asked about her action for students, Blake said: “Earlier in the year, I wrote to the Minister for Education, Gavin Williamson, joining the Student Union’s calls to cancel student debt, introduce a package of support for international students, provide maintenance grants to help students access higher education, and for the government to invest to create jobs in the wake of the pandemic.

“To ensure that the public health and economic crises don’t result in a lost generation, it’s vital that we take action now to guarantee opportunities for students and all young people.

The spending review will be held today where Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, will set out Whitehall budgets for 2021/22.

Image: Arianna Emmeline Rizzi

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