The government is being called on to provide financial and employment support to university students and recent graduates in view of fears they will be severely impacted during the COVID-19 crisis.
In a letter to Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, Liberal Democrat Bristol West Spokesperson and Young Liberals Honorary Vice President James Cox has called on the government to model a support package on the new announcements from the Canadian government, who are offering an emergency student benefit to assist with accommodation and living costs during the summer.
As well as doubling grants for students, the Canadian government is offering a new Canada Student Service Grant, which will help students gain valuable work experience and skills while they help their communities during the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Student finance does not cover summer months where many students and graduates in Bristol will still have rent to pay and basic living costs to account for. The prospects of summer jobs have been severely reduced during the crisis and there are concerns that students from less well-off families will fall into debt and arrears over the summer without financial support.
This letter coincides with the Liberal Democrats leading a cross-party call urging the Government to set up emergency Coronavirus Maintenance Grants for students from low-income backgrounds who are struggling as a result of the pandemic.
Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson, who is leading the campaign, warned students from low-income backgrounds are not able to claim Universal credit but are among the most “economically vulnerable in society during this crisis, and they do not have their parents to fall back on.”
MPs representing university towns from across the political spectrum have signed a letter to the Chancellor which also highlights that businesses relying on temporary student labour will find it far easier to hire a new cohort of students to fill vacancies when the shops, pubs and restaurants reopen, rather than furlough students that may not even be resident in the same city when the pandemic subsides. Sadly, no Bristol MPs have backed the campaign.
Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Bristol West James Cox said:
"Bristol is estimated to be home to around 60,000 students, many of whom will be deeply anxious about when their studies will continue, how they are going to pay for rent and how they will afford basic living costs over the summer if they cannot get a job or their employers will not furlough them. Without proper support, we seriously risk those from low-income families falling out of university and being able to return to their studies in the autumn.
"Students and recent graduates will not qualify for Universal Credit and may not qualify for other financial aid during this crisis. Therefore I am calling on the government to look to the comprehensive support that Canada is offering students and recent graduates to ensure that they are secure, able to continue in education and those future opportunities are not taken away from them because of this crisis."
Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Layla Moran MP added:
“Students from low-income backgrounds are among the most economically vulnerable in society during this crisis, and they do not have their parents to fall back on. They are not eligible for Universal Credit, and many who do work throughout their studies have fallen through the cracks in the Government’s furlough scheme.
“That’s why I, along with thirteen other cross-party MPs with university constituencies, have written to the Chancellor, calling on him to introduce a maintenance grant to help poorer students through these tough and stressful times. We cannot allow the most vulnerable in our society to fall through the gaps.”