Public funds are to be used to assist students in Northern Ireland cover rent this year as they cope with remote learning and in some cases not being able to use accommodation they have already paid for.
The Northern Ireland economy minister, Diane Dodds, has written to all the province’s higher education institutions to remind them of their responsibilities regarding student welfare and to urge them to take all possible steps to ensure students are supported.
In her letter the minister calls upon the higher education providers to take account of students being “trapped” in accommodation contracts which they can no longer use, and to take action such as providing rental holidays or release from contracts for halls of residence.
Dodds wants some of the institutions to consider contacting and negotiating with private landlords in regard to their accommodation for students not living in college halls of residence.
“I have [also] been contacted by many students, parents and others regarding the negative impact the current situation is having on students’ mental health” she says.
“Not only are they worried about their financial situation, they are also expressing concerns around value for money for the fees they are paying and changes to teaching methods having an impact on the quality of provision.
“To this end, I have asked the providers to make sure students are aware of the mental health support available to them, and to take practical steps including consulting with students at an early stage about plans for assessment. I also want them to consider appropriate ‘safety nets’ for students affected by the pandemic through, for example, implementing policies on mitigating circumstances.”
The five NI higher education institutions are Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University, Stranmillis University College, St Mary’s University College and Open University.