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Ministers seek to reassure students isolated by pandemic

Image: Liberal Democrats [CC BY-ND 2.0] via Flickr

Williams and Donelan write to institutions and students as pandemic spreads

Wales’ education minister Kirsty Williams has written to universities urging them to ensure that they communicate clearly with students who are still in their student accommodation.

In the letter, sent to Welsh institutions on 30 March, Williams (pictured) said she was aware that universities in Wales had carried out “a range of activities aimed at supporting students’ mental health and wellbeing”, and that she was “particularly concerned that this support is offered to students who remain away from home at this difficult time and who are likely to feel isolated”.

“Such support should be extended to students who are living off-campus, as well as those in university halls of residence,” Williams wrote. “I would like to emphasise the need for institutions to communicate clearly with residential students on rents at this time and to take a fair and transparent approach to the administration of accommodation provision.”

While many universities and halls of residence owners are letting students break their contracts as the coronavirus outbreak forces them to return home, some private accommodation providers are yet to commit.

According to Save the Student’s 2020 accommodation survey, 44 per cent of students are in the private rental sector, and will need to negotiate any change in terms with their individual landlords.

“The decision by some institutions to waive some or all accommodation costs is a welcome one,” Williams added. The letter, which covers a range of issues including student finance, staff support and admissions can be read in full here.

On 27 March, Michelle Donelan, the UK government’s universities minister, wrote to students to reassure them that ministers are “doing all we can to keep you safe and to mitigate the worst effects of the virus on you and your education”.

“I have been discussing with higher education providers the additional support that they can give to students,” Donelan wrote. “That includes continuing to provide accommodation for those who cannot travel home or have no alternative residence.

“Providers will also offer a range of other support services to students, including catering and cleaning, and also student health and welfare. We know that providers are bolstering their existing mental health services, and adapting delivery to means other than face to face, and these services are likely to be an important source of support for you during this period of isolation.”

He letter, which also covers examinations, visas and student finance, is published online.