A statement from your GSU Officers on the recent news for the return to campus and face-to-face teaching.
A statement from your GSU Officers. (All links open in a new window).
Many students have been awaiting the news to return to campus to continue their studies. When the government promised to put education first and supported the return of primary and secondary education, we asked ‘why not higher education?’.
The first step allowed students who could not learn the practical elements of their course virtually to return to campus.
The government has finally announced that students who are not already back at university are unable to return for face-to-face teaching until 17 May (at the earliest). You can find the Minister’s letter on the UK Parliament website.
As your Officer team, we understand that you may feel disappointed by this news, and we share your frustration. With many sectors of the economy beginning to reopen this week, we had hoped that the government would allow us to welcome more students back to campus for in-person teaching with social distancing and the safety measures we have in place. We are ready to do so as soon as the government allows.
The government has continued to ignore students and have failed to include Universities in the government roadmap. This is unacceptable. They have broken their promises throughout this academic term and were late in providing guidance for universities. This all has led to and incredible amount of stress, uncertainty and disruption for students that could have been avoided had university students not been repeatedly ignored.
The new guidance has come too late to make a meaningful impact as it doesn’t factor that majority students will finish in May with their exams and assessments for the year 2020/21. Students are at risk of: not progressing due to missing out on the practical elements of their course or their placement; of those whose mental health has significantly deteriorated because of constant upheaval; struggling financially because of paying rent for private rental accommodation and all of these are failures of the government to recognise and listen to the needs of students.
We ask the government to explain, if our campuses were Covid-19 safe back in September and October, why are they not safe now? Wasn’t the education the priority for the government? How is it possible that pubs, gyms, and hairdressers have opened before education? Why was it safe when testing capacity was lower when compared to today? What is the risk now that wasn’t there when many people weren’t vaccinated?
The University of Greenwich has done a huge amount financially to support students that have been living in halls with their accommodation promise and hardship funds. However, we welcome a further £15 million unlocked for student hardship but the student finance system is fundamentally broken. With students struggling to afford rent, food, and basic necessities – these problems existed long before the pandemic - we cannot keep plastering over the cracks every few months on unstable foundations. This funding will not help those who cannot apply for traditional hardship and many of the jobs available to students weren't supported by furlough. Who is responsible for poor decision-making being taken on both sides of the education and health of students?
We need assurances that the Minister will work with universities, professional bodies, and intervene in the predatory practices of landlords and accommodation providers to provide some urgently needed relief for students.
As per the National Union of Students (NUS) campaign, we would ask the government that we need non-repayable maintenance grants back on the table to stop students from being priced out of education and these need to be set at the level of student living income. As students have missed out not just on huge swathes of education and hands-on experience this year, but on experiencing campus life. Having experienced so much injustice, students deserve better than being disregarded by the government time and time again.
Bilal Ijaz, Mayo Femi-Obalemo, Niel Lewis and Zoë Campbell