NUS-USI sign letter to NI Executive demanding assurances for NI students

“Students have received almost no support from the Executive in last ten months”

The President/Uachtarán of the NUS-USI, Ellen Fearon has written to the First Minister, Deputy First Minister and Economy Minister seeking urgent support and clarity on a number of pressing matters for students across Northern Ireland. These assurances are namely that students are not financially deprived due to the ongoing circumstances and that more work is done to protect and uphold both education and student welfare.

President of NUS-USI Ellen said: “Students have received almost no support from the Executive in the last ten months” and that the Executive must urgently provide a financial package to protect students similar to that which was introduced across the other devolved nations.

“Students are being expected to pay rent for accommodation they can’t use, while some are relying on foodbanks and increased debt just to make ends meet.  Most students don’t have access to benefits or Universal credit and many have lost their jobs throughout this crisis”.

The letter, which was also signed by 55 other student leaders from each of the key further education institutions in Northern Ireland, comes following the announcement that nearly £300 million of funding allocated to NI from the UK Government  had not been used. Departments and Ministers are now scrambling proposals on where the funding should be allocated with the NUS-USI arguing that a portion must be allocated to students. Finance Minister, Conor Murphy MLA has said that he is treating allocation of remaining financial renumeration from the Treasury as a “matter of urgency”.

In a press release this morning following the letter’s delivery, Ellen added: “We need to see significant investment from the Economy Minister to ensure students can get money directly into their pockets. We also need to see investment into student mental health, digital inclusion and a plan to tackle the extortionate fees are students are paying for. Students deserve better than being treated as an afterthought and being left to suffer amid a national crisis.”

The demands of the letter which also also been signed by QUBSU leaders have been outlined across five key points. The letters calls for better provisions to equip and support student mental health, compensation for rent, tuition fees, clarity on BTEC, GCSE and A-Level assessments and Hardship digital funding.

Taking to Twitter this morning, Ellen Fearon tweeted her delight to see the unilateral solidarity which was being shown by all student leaders in the North coming together to demand better support for students, as the battle against coronavirus continues. Also taking to social media this morning was QUBSU Education VP, Jason Bunting who said that “students need urgent intervention now”.

Economy minister Diane Dodds has this week announced that her department will investigate the feasibility of a coronavirus hardship fund for students.

Members from the SDLP have been proactively campaigning for better support for students, including Liverpool John Moores University graduate and MLA for East Derry, Cara Hunter MLA.

Ms. Hunter said that “students feel excluded from financial aid” and that “a one-off £500 payment for every student in Northern Ireland would cost £32 million”.