Responding to new restrictions which require universities and colleges to move to online learning in most cases, NUS-USI President Ellen Fearon said, “I welcome the move to online learning for university and college students in all courses except where it is unavoidable. This is in line with recommendations from SAGE, and while in-person teaching is a vital part of the educational experience, student and staff safety must be the government’s top priority.
“However, this short-term reactivity could have been avoided with a more strategic approach from the outset. There are huge questions to be asked about what the rest of the academic year could look like as well as the need to address our original concerns surrounding the digital poverty students are facing due to distance learning. This includes lack of access to essential learning equipment and poor wifi signal for those living in rural areas of Northern Ireland. Going forward student representatives need to be involved in the decision making about students’ lives.
“It is now imperative that support and guidance is made available. We need clear government guidance for students explaining what these restrictions will mean for them, particularly regarding weekend and half-term travel. Limits to hospitality will have a knock-on impact to students who rely on part-time work in these industries and the government must be prepared to increase financial support. We need urgent support put in place for students who have signed on to housing leases for the next 12 months and are now unable to leave their contracts. We also need to urgently see a strategy to manage the mental health of students who are now facing even greater restrictions on socialising at a time when building social support networks is so important.”