The National Union of Students (NUS) Wales has called on the Government and education providers to do more to help students who have struggled throughout the pandemic.

The union says the extent of students’ struggles has been laid bare and it has demanded better from the Government and education providers during the next academic year which starts in September.

A survey conducted by the union found that more than 60 per cent of students find their mental health worse than it was before the pandemic.

Among their concerns are financial implications of successive lockdowns, with 70 per cent of respondents worried about paying rent and 37 per cent saying they do not have enough to cover the basic costs of living.

Worryingly, more than one in ten students said they turned to foodbanks during the pandemic.

While students receive maintenance loans and grants, many rely on part time work during their studies to cover the cost of living.

The pandemic has limited students’ access to jobs with many employed on zero hours and flexible contracts in hospitality and retail.

For some, support from family income has also decreased, while most students are frozen out of support schemes like universal credit and furlough.

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It has been calculated that students who could not return to campus after the Christmas break paid an average of £1,500 in rent on accommodation they could not use.

While those living in university-owned accommodation have benefited from rent rebates by universities, those living in private rented accommodation have not been able to access refunds.

To address the concerns, NUS Wales has called on the Government and education providers to take a number of actions. These include providing rent rebates for the full amount of time students could not access their accommodation, while ensuring the student finance system can cope with the economic impacts of Covid on the part-time jobs market and family income.

NUS Wales President, Becky Ricketts, also wants to see more funding provided to student mental health services on campuses and in the Welsh NHS, with the Government implementing a long-term student mental health strategy.

Ms Ricketts said: “This survey shows the extent of students’ struggles during the pandemic.

“As we come to the end of the 2020/21 academic year, I’m calling on the new Government and institutions to work with us and their students to do all they can to make it better next year.

“Students deserve better in 2021/22 and our recommendations would go some way to improving the situation for students who have been let down.

“It’s time to put students and their wellbeing first, and to ensure that students and young people are at the centre of the government’s plans for a post-Covid recovery.”

Less than a third of students who responded to the survey said their academic expectations were met this year.

Most spent more than half the year learning online, with no in-person teaching taking place at all for the majority of students between December and April.

To combat this, the NUS has also called on universities to be open and honest with current and prospective students about what restrictions will still be in place during the next academic year, so they can make an informed decision about whether now is the time to embark on a university education.

A spokesperson for the Welsh Government said: “The health, safety and wellbeing of our university community will remain a top priority for us as higher education institutions prepare for a new academic year.

“Over the past year we have allocated an additional £50 million to help institutions address student hardship in Welsh universities. 

"This was intended to help those students who were most in need as a result of the pandemic and facing greatest financial hardship due to ongoing lockdown restrictions.

"This included support for student mental health and student hardship services, providing food packages, access to resources and digital learning, as well as accommodation costs.

“We will continue to work with NUS Wales, universities and unions to ensure we target any further support to where we can best add value and make the biggest difference to the experiences of our young people.”

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