Soft left group Open Labour has launched a new petition calling for the UK and devolved governments to “end the Covid crisis on our campuses” as thousands of students are locked down at university.
With students and university staff struggling to adapt to their circumstances amid local outbreaks and a testing and tracing system that has been heavily criticised, the campaign urges governments to ensure:
- Food and basic living supplies go to self-isolating or quarantined students who are unable to access these from university-provided accommodation;
- An emergency student-specific mental health support plan;
- A move to teaching online wherever possible, as recommended by independent SAGE;
- No retribution – financial or academic – against students who wish to cancel or defer contracts with university-provided accommodation;
- Equipment for students who need it to be able to access online learning, plus support for those with dyslexia and disabilities;
- An immediate investigation of allegations that students are being deprived of their liberty by universities, their servants or agents with no legal authority to do so;
- A long-term strategy for the post-18 education sector to deal with the long-term consequences of Covid-19.
Open Labour’s youth officer Cathleen Clarke said: “It’s been a terrible summer for our young people struggling with the fiasco of exams for GCSE and A-Level students. Now first-time uni and college goers are hit with a Covid crisis on campuses and lockdowns almost the moment they arrived.”
Kings College London student Maliha Reza added: “We’ve had delay, dither and confusion, which needs to end. The government needs to take responsibility, set out short-term measures and put in place a long-term plan, working with students, universities, colleges and unions.”
Edinburgh University student Elsie Greenwood commented: “It shows yet again the Scottish government have not prioritised the wellbeing of students. Once again, we see another mistake they’ve made on education because of a lack of foresight and planning in this crisis.”
In ongoing Young Labour elections, Clarke is standing for Young Labour chair, Reza is vying to become one of three student representatives and Greenwood is contesting the Young Labour Scotland representative post.
Keir Starmer’s spokesperson turned down the opportunity to back tuition fee or rent refund requests by university students when speaking to lobby journalists after Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon.
Asked whether the Labour leader sympathises with students demanding refunds, his spokesperson replied: “First and foremost, the immediate priority is making sure every student gets a good education, and that means them being able to learn safely either in person or remotely.
“That has got to be the immediate priority. And obviously we understand there is deep anxiety and frustration for students and also for their parents across the country. Our immediate priority is making sure they get the best education they can right now.”
Pressed further on whether he sympathises with calls for requests, the spokesperson said: “We have a huge amount of sympathy for what students are having to go through and also not to forget their parents as well. It’s a hugely anxious time for them.”
But the opposition leader has given some support to the University and College Union call for online learning now to become the default due to Covid-19, with Starmer’s spokesperson saying a move toward more remote methods “seems to be a sensible step”.
Starmer will be joining Kate Green on a Zoom call on Thursday with students who have recently started university and with their parents, where they will discuss the challenges that they are facing during the pandemic.