The safety and wellbeing of staff and students in higher education (HE) is always our priority. The government is doing all it can to minimise the risks to those working and studying in our HE institutions in this unprecedented situation, whilst mitigating the impact on education.
The department is working with universities to make sure that all students are supported to return home safely and spend Christmas with their loved ones, if they choose to do so. Where students choose to stay in their university accommodation over Christmas, universities should continue making sure that they are well looked after. The department is working with the sector to publish guidance on students returning home safely at Christmas.
The government has worked closely with the Office for Students (OfS) to help clarify that providers can draw upon existing funding to provide hardship funds and support disadvantaged students impacted by the COVID-19 outbreaks. Providers can use OfS Student Premium funding, worth around £256 million for academic year 2020/21, towards student hardship funds, including the purchase of IT equipment and mental health support, as well as to support providers’ access and participation plans.
I wrote to Vice Chancellors in October outlining that student welfare should remain a priority and have convened a taskforce on mental health and wellbeing to address the current and pressing issues that students are facing during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The OfS funded Student Space platform bridges gaps in support for students arising from this unprecedented situation and is designed to work alongside existing services.
Students struggling with their mental health at this time can also access support via the NHS and online resources from Public Health England, along with support from mental health charity Mind. NHS mental health support is available here: https://www.nhs.uk/apps-library/category/mental-health/.
Online resources from Public Health England are available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-the-public-on-mental-health-and-wellbeing.
Support from mental health charity Mind is available here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/student-life/about-student-mental-health/.