Ealing Central and Acton MP, Rupa Huq, has challenged the Government’s decision to delay the return of university students to campus.
The Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, confirmed that a return to in-person learning will resume from May 13, which will be in line with Stage 3 of the Government’s roadmap and over 1 million university students will be impacted by this decision.
Huq, who was a university lecturer three decades prior to her election in 2015, questioned the postponement and stated that it will be ‘too late’ for many students whose teaching finishes prior to or around the middle of May.
Speaking from her home in Ealing, the Labour MP highlighted the inconsistencies in the Government’s decision, as students in England are unable to return to campus while students in Wales have returned this week.
In response to Huq’s disapproval, the Universities Minister cited ‘the mass movement of students and the formation of new households’.
She said: “Many things are indeed opening up, but most of them are outside and involve social mixing outside, and the key thing is that they do not involve the formation of new households.”
Huq later said: “The Minister completely failed to answer my question of why students doing the same course in England and Wales are getting such a different educational experience – a stark discrepancy.
“Plus, she completely fails to understand that at institutions like Ealing’s own University of West London (UWL) and many other London universities, this is not an issue as most students live in the parental home anyway.
“Not every student inhabits ivory towers and hangs out with the Bullingdon club.”
This was later reiterated by Professor Anthony Woodman, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of UWL, who said 93% of UWL students commute to and from their homes within London.
“Mass migration is not an issue for us,” Woodman said.
“Safe and reliable public transport supporting their commute is the biggest priority for our students.”
“Unfortunately for all our students the delay in resuming face-to-face for non-practical elements until May 17 means there will be no opportunity for much needed in-person teaching prior to the critical end of year or even worse graduating assessments.”
A survey from the Higher Education Policy Institute found that two-thirds of students have been staying in their term-time accommodation although they are studying online, suggesting there would be less of a mass migration than at the start of the academic year.
This includes Harry Wild, a third-year PPE student Rupa cited in her question.
Originally from Ealing, Harry has been studying at Southampton University, but has been stuck learning online since Christmas.
Harry’s mother Natasha, said the Minister’s response to Huq’s question was ‘hugely disappointing.’
“My son has, in spite of very challenging circumstances on campus, continued to try and apply himself and make friends.
“To hear that you can have haircuts (indoors), go to gyms (indoors) and have very close contact driving lessons makes this decision even more ridiculous.
“Where’s the science behind this damaging decision?
“My son is baffled, confused and stressed by all this.
“It’s not fair ‒ we’re not putting university students on the same footing as school pupils.”
Huq said: “A student can now get a tattoo, have their hair done and go to the pub ‒ all on the same day if they so choose.
“But that same student is unable to get an in-person education, even though they have paid thousands for housing, tuition and services they haven’t been able to fully access.”
Labour’s Shadow Universities Minister, Matt Western, was unimpressed with the Minister’s announcement of an extra £15million for hardship funds, suggesting it did not go far enough.
He said: “The Government is offering students pitiful levels of support which trail far behind the Welsh Labour Government ‒ students must not pay the price for the Government’s incompetent response to this pandemic.”
Huq has asked the Government to provide the scientific evidence behind the decision, with an answer to come tomorrow, April 19.