According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 37% of students have reported being "dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their academic experience since the start of the autumn term".
Since universities closed in March 2020, students have seen all learning switch to an online format, years abroad cancelled and the largest rent strike movement in 40 years. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has revealed that 64% of students say that their mental health has suffered due to the pandemic, and a Sutton Trust survey disclosed that 33% have struggled to cover living expenses.
What was your experience of university life? How has it shaped your views on higher education?
I studied Law at Edinburgh University a long time ago in 1982, but I didn’t really enjoy it. My advice to future students would be to study a subject that you love. University is a great opportunity for students to study new things that aren’t accessible in schools and engage with new ideas. It provides a different experience in a new and exciting environment. I am passionate about giving young people access to a great education and the wider life experiences that it offers.
Did you agree with the decision made by the government that it was safe for students to return to their university cities in the autumn of 2020?
They [the UK government] received advice from SAGE [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] and we are not given access to this information. It would be a government failure if they acted against the scientific advice.
It was recognised that there were spikes of cases of the virus in halls of residence and accommodation, so, moving forward, we need to ensure that our teaching and living spaces are completely COVID-secure, to guarantee the safety of our students and university staff.
What do you think the coronavirus pandemic has taught us about higher education?
The pandemic has certainly exposed a failure in the market and shown that marketisation has let us down. Because of the A-levels debacle, students were able to change universities to their first choice. This created issues for the admissions process and put universities under financial pressure. The pandemic has had a profound impact upon students, universities and parents alike and has certainly revealed the failure of the marketisation of higher education.
What is your opinion on remote learning?
Online learning should be used a supplement to your education; it is certainly not the only way to learn. Also, it certainly is not ideal for disadvantaged students, who aren’t able to study effectively at home.
Is there anything else that you would like to say to university students?
I am really disappointed for students. This government has completely let you down and has left you high and dry throughout this entire coronavirus pandemic. The government treats students as consumers, but I call you students. You have not had the full university experience, but you now have the chance to hold them accountable.