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Students Demand Grade “Safety Nets” And Rent Rebates As Universities Face More Coronavirus Disruption

Students are calling on universities to recognise the disruption to their studies (PA)

4 min read

Student representatives at some of the UK’s top universities are calling on sector leaders to reinstate grade “safety nets” and provide rent rebates after almost a year of disruption by the pandemic.

On Monday, union presidents at 22 members of the prestigious Russell Group of Universities — representing almost half a million students between them — wrote to the organisation urging it to reinstate the policy grade “safety nets” for students.

Following the effects of previous nationwide lockdowns in March and November last year, many universities adopted “no detriment” policies to ensure student grades were not unfairly impacted by the crisis.

The Russell Group confirmed last week, however, that it would not be reintroducing such policies for the new term as they were no longer deemed “necessary or appropriate”, adding that its universities were “confident” that all students could still attain a “fair grade”.

But — in a letter signed by the student union leaders at 22 of the Russell Group’s 24 member universities — the organisation has been accused of causing “unnecessary anxiety”.

The letter argues that the “unforeseen circumstances” which led to such policies in March 2020 are “still necessary” as they are “still impacting students” in 2021. 

“No student should be disadvantaged by the impacts of COVID-19. No student should be disadvantaged by any mitigating measures introduced,” the letter read. 

“All students should, as much as possible, have a level playing field to demonstrate their academic achievement.”

It continued: “Consequently, we are calling on Universities to recognise that all students continue to be affected by the pandemic. 

“Any rejection of safety net policies because they apply to all students fails to recognise the aforementioned fact. 

“We call upon universities to implement safety net policies that both apply to all students, no matter their background or course, and that take into account the individual challenges students have faced.”

Their intervention comes amid an ongoing rent protests at many UK universities, with around 15,000 students reportedly withholding rent in protest at high accommodation costs for rooms left unusable by lockdown.

Campaign groups have been organised at more than 40 universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Leeds, Warwick and member institutions of the University of London.

Many Labour MPs have expressed solidarity with the action, despite the party refusing to publicly what has been dubbed the biggest UK rent strike in decades

Last month, the youth wing of the Labour Party issued a statement urging Keir Starmer to come out in support of those striking and their demands.

Speaking to PoliticsHome, Nottingham East MP Nadia Whittome said students had been treated “appallingly” during the pandemic.

“Many students feel that they're seen as little more than "cash cows", with little regard for their physical, mental and financial wellbeing. It comes as no surprise that they're organising and standing up for their rights,” she said. 

Elsewhere, shadow universities minister Emma Hardy urged the government to do more for students impacted by lockdown.

“The government’s failure to control the spread of the virus is denying students the university experience they deserve,” she said.

“It is clearly unjust that many students are paying for housing that the government is telling them not to return to.

“Action is necessary to address this injustice, and all housing providers should be engaging with students, tenants and their representatives to find a fair solution.”

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