University students deserve better; they’re the pandemic’s forgotten victims – Sarah Todd

UNIVERSITY students – and more specifically their hard-working parents and grandparents – have been hung out to dry during the pandemic, and it is time that the Prime Minister recognised this.

has the Government paid sufficient heed to the needs of university students during the pandemic? Columnist Sarah Todd poses the question.

There has been no bigger Boris backer than this correspondent; but when it comes to the scrap heap students and their finances have been thrown on even this flag flyer for the Prime Minister can no longer turn a blind eye.

The one possible excuse may be that the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, is useless and hasn’t got a grip on the scandal; therefore our boyishly likeable leader hasn’t been properly briefed.

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There is no doubting in my mind that if education was Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s remit there would have been some form of snazzy scheme sorted.

Scarborough-born Gavin Williamson is ultimately responsible for universities as Education Secretary.

He’d have been on it.

Come September, our daughter will begin her third and final year of university.

The first was cut short because of the pandemic – she ended up coming home and getting a job milking cows – and the second year never really got going.

Most university students have been forced to study at home during the pandemic.

She came home and worked mucking out racehorses between sporadic online learning that was far from easy with our terrible rural Wi-Fi connection.

Her parents didn’t go to university so it was quite a family milestone as she headed off down south to start a degree.

She should have been having the time of her life but instead was stuck in her freezing bedroom (The Husband doesn’t believe in central heating) trying to tune into some zoom lecture that might or might not appear.

And you know the worst thing?

Having to pay full whack for it – then the blessed £500 a month or whatever for the house she wasn’t living in. It’s been a double-whammy to discover how many of her fellow students are on full maintenance grants while she gets the bare minimum.

University seems like an old boys’ club that we’re not members of and this disparity needs to stop.

The tales she told back when university wasn’t an online experience were straight out of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

The modern-day twist is how many brought up in the world of boarding schools, skiing, South of France and so-on receive full financial support.

We’re the mugs of course; not knowing the loopholes.

The Daughter went to the local school and bought her little Mini with the milking money. We’re not at all wealthy; her father refused time off on furlough, never takes a day’s holiday and turns all the lights off (you already know about the heating).

Grandparents have helped and we’ve managed but we have never felt more like the proverbial squeezed middle.

Where is a little something back?

Private landlords should be made to make some kind of goodwill gesture to students. It’s just not on.

Our daughter’s letting agent has been coming on strong about how the house should be left – professional oven and carpet cleaners and so-on – well he can jump up. It’s hardly been lived in.

If our younger offspring decides to go to university we’ll be so cautious.

Of course, he should have the same opportunity as his sister but the fear is that online lectures will become the norm and university will never again be the pre-Covid learning experience it once was.

Yes this has been a global pandemic; it wasn’t the fault of the universities.

But, on the other hand, did they really need to take all that money in fees for a service that was half-cocked to say the least?

Our family in the middle is one example; but mention must also be made of those from poorer backgrounds who may have fared better on the maintenance grant front.

They will still be saddled for decades with paying off student debts for such a disrupted education of sorts.

To finish on a positive, our undergraduate has found some super work experience for the summer holidays.

The end is in sight; but that glimmer of light is thanks to her tenacity in writing letters and the kindness of strangers in replying.

There should be tuition fee and rent rebates for students.

It’s just not fair of the Government to offer financial assistance to so many other groups in society – through the furlough scheme, benefits uprating, help for small and large businesses and so on – but cock a snook at those on degree courses (and their families) or those still contemplating going to university after receiving their A-Level results next week.

It’s been a miserable couple of years for everyone; the very least the Government can do is give young people – who will be paying through their taxes for all those people on furlough for the rest of their working lives – a bit of a perk.

A few grand back; otherwise the message seems to be working hard and living within your means equals you get forgotten about.

* Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life.

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