The Welsh Government will today announce a further £40 million to support universities and their students during the current pandemic.
Universities in Wales will be asked to prioritise the new funding towards students who are most vulnerable and those that have been most affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. Universities will also be asked to strengthen their advice and support services for students, while the funding may also be used to assist universities in covering costs from granting rent rebates to students who have been unable to return to campuses, it is understood.
The new funding will come from the Welsh Government’s COVID-19 Reserve and is in addition to over £40 million of funding that has already been provided to support universities in the current financial year.
Wales is currently in an Alert Level Four lockdown and many students have been delayed from returning to campuses following the Christmas break.
At universities across the UK, ‘rent strikes’ have started in recent weeks with students unhappy about being asked to pay for accommodation they are being told to avoid living in.
At some universities, rents have been reduced following the action of or threat of ‘rent strikes’. Aberystwyth University, Swansea University, Bangor University, Cardiff University and Cardiff Metropolitan University are just some of the universities which have recently offered eligible students rent rebates or discounts off their accommodation bill.
In a video about new funding for universities, Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams has indicated that she believes it is ‘unfair’ for students to currently have to pay for accommodation which they are not living in. Ms Williams said,
“Many thousands of students, unfortunately, have not been able to return to campus yet. In some cases, this means you might still be paying for your accommodation. That is simply unfair if you’re at home and studying online.
“I’m pleased that many of our universities have moved quickly and are sorting out rent rebates and providing other support services. The Welsh Government funding that I’m announcing today will help universities with those costs and I hope will go a long way towards addressing student worries.”
It is hoped that the new funding will also help address concerns of ‘digital poverty’ among students, with some students unable to easily access online learning due to a lack of appropriate computing equipment.
Speaking about the new funding, Welsh Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said;
“In such difficult times, it is vital we continue to support people currently in education, who will be instrumental as we rebuild our economy in the wake of the pandemic.
“This funding will also help tackle inequality, by ensuring the most vulnerable students and those most affected by the pandemic can complete their studies.
“If you are a student here in Wales, your university or students’ union will be able to provide you with further information about the support available.”
Meanwhile, in England, calls have been growing recently for additional support to be provided to university students. On 7 January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told students that they will be hearing from the Education Secretary about how the Government intends to support them over the coming weeks, though since then, no new support has been announced.
A UK-wide petition on the UK Parliament website has so far received over half a million signatures, with people calling for tuition fees to be reduced from £9250 to £3000 given disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The UK Government is yet to respond to the petition.