Boris Johnson said the Government would ‘have to look at’ the cost of university fees and accommodation after he plunged England into a third national lockdown last night.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister praised students for the sacrifices they had made in staying away from university and learning online but stopped short of pledging a tax-payer refund.
He said that ministers would look into what arrangements universities across the nation were making in trying to deal with the concerns posed by many students.
His comments come amid increasing calls for the Prime Minister to offer rebates or accommodation grants to students who have been kept way from their campuses during the pandemic.
Last week university student Kiera Murrell, 20, shared an emotional post in which she described being left ‘exhausted’ by the lack of support she says students have received during the pandemic.
Ms Murrell, who studies psychology at the University of Bournemouth, shared a photo of herself in tears on social media and wrote: ‘In case anybody wondered how it looked or felt to be a university student in a pandemic.
Boris Johnson vowed that he would ‘have to look at’ the cost of university fees and accommodation during his press briefing
University student Kiera Murrell, 20, shared an emotional post in which she described being left exhausted by the lack of support
‘I am so exhausted and drained. I have spent my afternoon crying into a Terry’s chocolate orange because I have received not a single bit of support since university moved online in March, just like everybody else on my course.
‘Since September we have submitted three assignments, received absolutely no feedback and I have another due in a week, followed by two more exams and then another assignment due two weeks after that.
‘Please tell me how I’m supposed to improve to better my work with absolutely 0 feedback apart from a few sarcastic emails from lecturers telling us to figure it out.’
After the post was shared, Ms Murrell said that she hoped it would help students’ voices be heard.
‘I just ended up reaching a point yesterday where I felt so deflated, I didn’t want to continue with university, something which I worked so hard for,’ she said.
‘I actually originally took that photo to send to friends, but I decided to share it alongside the statement to show other students they’re not alone, and there are others who aren’t coping very well under the current circumstances.
‘I am so surprised on the response… I think it speaks so much volume that thousands of students can relate and understand the struggles. I’m just so glad it did get the response it did, because students’ voices are finally being heard.’
Ms Murrell added that some of her friends had not been home ‘in months’ and spent Christmas away from their families amid coronavirus restrictions in southern England.
She said: ‘Some days it’s easy to motivate yourself, other days you do just feel so flat and lonely, and like your lecturers are against you rather than there to support and guide you.
‘Normally we have a clue on where we are in terms of grades, but this year it feels like we’re barely getting by.’
A spokesman for Bournemouth University said: ‘Throughout the pandemic, significant support has been put in place to support students and their learning.
‘Messages have been sent to students on a very regular basis and a range of information and guidance is available on the BU website and student portal.
‘We would encourage any student needing support to contact our AskBU service or their academic adviser.’
During his press today, the Prime Minister said: ‘We will be looking very carefully at what is happening to students as a result of what is happening to their courses being postponed – and the absence of tuition that they would expect.
‘What we hope is they will get online learning which would allow them to continue with their degree courses.
‘But clearly there are going to be issues to do with the cost of their accommodation which we will have to look at as a Government and see what arrangements the universities are making to deal with the reasonable concerns of many, many students.’
Mr Johnson also thanked students for staying away from university and said it would be ‘worth it for the reopening of education and the reopening of our lives.’
He added: ‘I want to thank students for the sacrifice that you are making in staying away from university and learning online as you have to like all other students and pupils will have to over the next few weeks and months.
‘I know it’s a big sacrifice but I believe it will sincerely be worth it for the reopening of education and the reopening of our lives.’
In response to the new lockdown restrictions, the National Union of Students slammed the Government’s ‘inability to deal with the pandemic’.
Ms Murrell added that some of her friends had not been home ‘in months’ and spent Christmas away from their families
The Prime Minister praised students for the sacrifices they had made in staying away from university and learning online
NUS Vice-President Higher Education Hillary Gyebi-Ababio said: ‘The government’s inability to deal with the pandemic has once again led us to a sadly necessary national lockdown.
‘The impact of yet another lockdown on students’ education and welfare will be severe, and ongoing disruption means students are struggling to make ends meet. Students need substantial support.
‘Universities must provide a high quality of online teaching and learning and we need rapid investment to enable every student to properly access it.
‘No-detriment policies in every university, rent rebates and the opportunity to leave tenancies early and urgent investment and scaling up of online student mental health services.
‘Students have regularly been ignored, lied to and even blamed throughout this pandemic by the government and universities – enough is enough – students deserve better.’
The national lockdown in England announced on Monday means that all primary and secondary schools and colleges will move to remote learning, except for the children of key workers or vulnerable children.
University students will not be allowed to return to campus and will be expected to study from their current residence.
In-person university teaching will only take place for a small number of critical courses, including medicine, dentistry, teacher training, veterinary science and social work.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘Early years settings remain low-risk environments for children and staff and there is no evidence that the new variant of coronavirus disproportionately affects young children.
‘Keeping nurseries and childminders open will support parents and deliver the crucial care and education for our youngest children.
‘We are funding nurseries as usual and all children are able to attend their early years setting in all parts of England.
‘Where nurseries do see a drop in income from either parent-paid fees or income from DfE, they are able to use the furlough scheme.
‘Working parents on coronavirus support schemes will still remain eligible for childcare support even if their income levels fall below the minimum requirement.’
Today Mr Johnson revealed that one in 50 of the population of England – around a million people – were now infected with coronavirus and explained that the spread of the mutant version of the virus had made lockdown impossible to avoid.
However he insisted the measures can get the situation under control while vaccines are rolled out – dismissing anxiety that he is ‘over-promising’ by claiming the most vulnerable categories can be given jabs by mid-February.
Under the the new guidance, published overnight, non-essential retail, all hospitality, gyms and swimming pools will be ordered to close – with Rishi Sunak due to lay out another package of support today amid growing fears about the impact on the economy.
Cafes, bars and restaurants will be allowed to serve takeaway – but in a tightening from the draconian measures last spring, they will not be allowed to serve any alcohol.
The public are once again only allowed to leave home for one of five reasons: to go to work if essential, shop for necessities, exercise – allowed with one other person from another household, care for someone, or to seek medical help or flee threat such as domestic violence.