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Taking University Ministers Back To School

Michelle Donelan

The contempt and indifference shown by Government ministers towards our student population still surprises me.

I recently participated in Michelle Donelan’s online Q+A session with students, and tried to keep an open mind. However I was shocked how truly disengaged, ineffective and under-qualified she is as Universities Minister. She seems to be entirely unaware of the distress and harm her department’s policies have been having on student well-being and on their overall learning experience.

After sitting through her insistance that students had a “good deal” from their institutions during this pandemic, I challenged her on how she felt able to make such an outrageous remark, when the practical aspects of most courses have totally disappeared this year without adequate alternative or proper support. Just 20% of students in a recent poll feel their online learning experience this year has been of good quality, which demonstrates soundly that Donelan is deeply out of touch with the people directly affected by the crisis we're facing.

Donelan made mention of spending more money on student mental health support in response to the 52% of students whose mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic. But this in no way addresses the multiple issues that students uniquely have to face - balancing with large amounts of coursework, isolation from peers and family, adjusting to new living conditions, taking on unreliable paid work to supplement insufficient student loads, dealing with rental exploitation and precariousness - as well as the risk of becoming ill from covid themselves and watching their lives simply fall apart.

Throwing money at ineffective mental health services at this point is plainly just an attempt to paper over ever-widening cracks instead of tackling the structural issues beneath - which is essentially that society is determined to exploit students in whatever capacity they can find with no regard to their health and ambition.

It is clear that the Department of Education does not understand, and will not care to alleviate, the scars their policies will have on the current student population. Anf those scars will endure a long time.

Billy Wassall
Cheltenham Borough Council Candidate for Pittville Ward