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Interventionism is suddenly all the rage with the Westminster Conservative government, and higher education is feeling the impact as new policies and legislation are brought to bear on the sector, writes Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of Push and of the Engineering Professors’ Council.
Mike Boxall, an independent researcher and consultant on higher education policies and strategies, and a senior adviser to PA Consulting, considers the emerging post-COVID world and its implications for the future of universities. His blog is based on a paper published recently by PA Consulting, and co-authored with its HE lead, Ian Matthias.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Students, a cross-party group of MPs and Peers, is launching a short inquiry into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on university students, with specific reference to student calls for rebates in tuition and accommodation payments.
The inquiry, which will be led by APPG Chair Paul Blomfield MP with Vice-Chairs Lord David Willetts, Alison Thewliss MP and Caroline Lucas MP, comes as university leaders and the University and College Union, said the government, not universities, should foot the bill for any refunds. An estimated 15,000 students at dozens of university have threatened to withhold rent for accommodation they cannot use during lockdown, while thousands more have signed a petition demanding tuition fee rebates.
The APPG inquiry will aim to examine the case for compensation, taking account of the widely varying experience faced by both undergraduate and postgraduate students, and to consider how it might be addressed. In its call for evidence, it said: "Universities have sought to maintain the best possible learning experience for students through the difficult and changing circumstances caused by the pandemic. However, there is some feeling from students that the offer has fallen below their expectations". The group adds that they are "deeply conscious of the complexity of the issue and the very different ways in which students have been affected - between universities, courses and more".
APPG Chair Paul Blomfield, commented: "Students all over the country have faced extraordinary challenges throughout the pandemic – from huge changes to their learning, to being legally prevented from accessing accommodation for which they are paying, and loss of essential income as part-time jobs in sectors such as hospitality and retail have ceased to exist.
"The impact has varied hugely between courses, levels of study and universities, as well as regions and nations. It's vital that we hear from those directly affected - students, universities and accommodation providers – and recognise the very different experiences they have faced. I look forward to working with colleagues across Parliament to consider recommendations for Government and universities in addressing student concerns."
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