The Scottish Government is facing calls from student groups and political opponents to force private accommodation providers and universities to cancel rents while housing goes unused during the coronavirus lockdown.
Speaking at Friday’s coronavirus briefing, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the staggered return for college and university students that was previously announced, will now be extended, with most university students set to continue online-only learning until the end of February at least.
The Scottish Government says the current state of the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown measures and the vaccine roll-out will all be taken into account when considering whether it’s possible to resume in-person teaching at that time.
“The return of students to campus, including returning to term-time accommodation, involves the mass movement of thousands of people across the country,” says Richard Lochhead, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science.
“The mixing of people on that scale, including the potential movement of tens of thousands of students to university halls and private-rented flats, simply isn’t safe right now. It would fuel the virus, and that is something no one wants.”
‘Scottish Government must intervene’
The new delays mean that thousands of students in Scotland are going to be paying for accommodation they’re simply not using, a financial drain that student representatives want the Scottish Government to do something about.
“Many students are tied into paying rent for potentially close to three months now, for accommodation they’re being told not to use. The Scottish Government must intervene” says Matt Crilly, president of the National Union of Students Scotland.
Calls for rent refunds are being echoed by the Scottish Conservatives, who accuse education minister John Swinney of failing to answer questions about the situation for students during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The SNP Government must urgently deliver rent refunds to students who will now suffer financially through no fault of their own,” says Scottish Conservatives shadow education spokesman Jamie Greene.
“We need to see this money getting to students immediately, not months down the line when they’re already out of pocket.”
Scottish Labour are calling for January’s rent to be refunded to students who can’t take up their accommodation places because of distance learning rules, or who feel it would be unsafe to do so; while the Scottish Greens are calling for a rent waiver for as long as students are being told not to return to campus.
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