Tuesday 2 February 2021 11:03 am

University students to receive share of £50m funding amid Covid disruption to teaching

Universities are set to receive an additional £50m to support financially struggling students amid mounting backlash over continuing fees during the pandemic.

The new funding, which comes on top of a £20m package offered to disadvantaged students in December, follows a slew of rent strikes and protests from students.

Many have asked for rent on student accommodation to be repaid while being forced to remain off campus during lockdown. Others have demanded fee reimbursements after switching the online learning.

A survey last month found that 86 per cent of students believe they should receive a “full or partial refund” on their tuition fees as Covid restrictions limit their university experience.

The Office for Students (OfS) said it will distribute the £50m funding to universities across the country, prioritising the students most in need of support.

While the new cash injection was welcomed by the sector, some universities warned it did not go far enough.

The vice-chancellors of seven universities around the UK have called for interest on student loans to be scrapped for 15 months.

In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, chancellor Rishi Sunak and education secretary Gavin Williamson, the vice-chancellors said students were unfairly shouldering the burden of the pandemic while missing out on key education.

“The opportunity and wealth gap between the young and old is already unacceptably large — and existing challenges are being amplified by the impact of the pandemic on students and their life chances,” the letter said.

Students at universities in England are currently charged 5.6 per cent on their student loans while they are studying, based on the retail price index, plus three per cent.

Interest on loans begins the day students start their university courses — not when they finish.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan admitted the pandemic has applied “extra pressure on students’ finances,” but said interest cuts would not put cash into their pockets in the short-term.

“At least half of students don’t actually pay back their student loan”, she told BBC Breakfast, adding that the government’s priority was helping “those students most in need”.