Students’ Return to Universities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:43 pm on 29th September 2020.

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Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education) 12:43 pm, 29th September 2020

I start by declaring an interest: my son is currently at university having to deal with online lessons and my husband teaches in a university.

Unfortunately, covid is only one of the challenges facing universities, with a hard Brexit fast approaching. I start by joining the Secretary of State in praising the steps that universities have put in place to keep staff and students safe through blended and online lessons and mental health support. I hope he will join me in recognising the support that has been given by individual universities such as Glasgow, which will refund one month’s rent for any student having to self-isolate in halls, and Dundee University, which is offering free accommodation to international students who have to quarantine. Students and young people should not be blamed for the rise in cases. The vast majority are complying entirely with the guidance.

While Scottish students attend university in Scotland for free and therefore are not financially impacted by fees, students in England will pay over £9,000 for a mostly online education. This is clearly the time to reflect on the fee-paying structure of higher education and consider following Scotland’s example of free higher education for all. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with Cabinet colleagues on reducing fees and increasing Government funding to universities? We know that there have been issues in accessing tests in England, and that can be more acute for students, who may not have the ability to travel to testing centres. What steps is he taking to set up on-campus tests for students?

Finally, in the Science and Technology Committee earlier this month, the principal of Glasgow University, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, described the R&D road map published by the Government in July as a “very high-level document” that

“needs to be turned into a definitive plan very quickly”,

with clarity given on the Government’s exact plans for investment. Could the Secretary of State set out when details of the road map will be released?