Jeff Smith has joined fellow Manchester MPs Lucy Powell and Afzal Khan in meeting with representatives from the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University Student Unions.
Labour MPs Jeff, Lucy and Afzal collectively represent the majority of students living in Manchester, including those in halls of residence and those living in private rented housing.
During the meeting, they discussed the issues facing students as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and how the universities and politicians can work together to support students through the crisis.
A range of questions were taken from local students, who asked the MPs their views on issues including rent reductions for those who have moved away as a result of Covid-19 and the problems facing the hospitality sector.
There was general consensus in the meeting that the issues experienced by students during the pandemic have highlighted existing problems with the student loan system. However, Jeff explained that as the government are currently unwilling to provide funding for universities to offer tuition refunds, the only option currently available to students is to raise individual complaints with their universities.
Other issues raised included financial hardship funds, and mental health support. As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health, Jeff believes the government should invest in extra resources to cope with any rise in demand for mental health services. This investment could include working with universities to improve remote learning provision and support for campus mental health services.
Speaking about the meeting, Jeff said:
“It was great to meet with university representatives and to hear about the issues that matter to students in light of the coronavirus crisis. I appreciate how hard it is for students who have had their education disrupted and can’t experience university life fully due to the pandemic.
While it’s good news that the Government has now listened to Labour’s call for mass testing for students to enable them to return home over the Christmas break, nothing has been said about the return of students in January. The Government need to urgently set out plans for the safe return of students, giving universities and students time to prepare for a safe return to in-person learning.“
The whole meeting is available to watch here.