YUSU Officers and staff may not be in the office, but we’re still hard at work. We know that Covid -19 is impacting students in many different ways and we will continue to ensure your voices and concerns are heard by the University during these strange times. I wanted to give a quick summary of what your Union has been up to, and highlight some of the key actions we’ve taken to represent students’ interests and ensure you can study effectively, know your rights on things like accommodation and finances and have access to the most up-to-date information:
Ended on-campus accommodation contracts
YUSU officers are representing your interests in a range of University forums. We called on the University to ensure students were not disproportionately impacted by Covid-19; helping secure an agreement that students in on-campus accommodation could be released early from their contracts, should they wish. Thousands of students have terminated their tenancy agreements early.
Working with private student accommodation providers
The Sabb Team have also called on private accommodation providers in the city to make similar commitments and release students early from their tenancy agreements. To date VITA, Student Castle, Student Roost and iQ have all pledged to release students from summer term commitments on a case by case basis.
Standing up for your rights as a private tenant
I’ve teamed up with the VC and the GSA to write to private landlords across York asking for their leniency towards student tenants in this difficult time. The letter reminds landlords about the Government’s support measures for tenants and explains the circumstances many students are finding themselves in, including those facing severe restrictions on their income and ability to earn. It asks landlords to consider providing students with penalty free early releases from tenancy agreements and offering leniency for students forced to overstay because of travel restrictions and their adherence to the Government’s advice.
Working in partnership for all of York’s students
I’ve also been working alongside York St John Students’ Union to encourage the City of York Council to limit the financial impact of Covid-19 on students. The Council agreed to write to all landlords requesting leniency, flexibility and negotiation with their tenants at this time, and the Council is helping students who can’t make rent payments and landlords who are threatening legal action. It is also working with local landlords and has implemented a 3-month holiday period for landlords renewing their HMO (House of Multiple Occupancy) license.
Wellbeing and Welfare
Supporting those still in York or on campus
YUSU has been working closely with the University to understand the needs of students both in York and residing on campus during the lockdown period. As we closed our venues we pulled together a team of volunteers to pull together care packages full of food and snacks for students isolating on campus.
Lobbying for financial aid for students
Following lobbying from us and the GSA to expand the hardship fund, an Emergency Student Support Fund was launched, offering financial support of up to £500 (per applicant) for students facing unanticipated financial challenges as a result of Covid-19. Thanks to the generosity of York’s alumni and supporters the University was able to launch the fund and respond to the pressure students are facing in lightning quick time!
Keeping you connected
Over 1300 students have joined our Covid-19 community group. This is showcasing all the amazing student-led activity that’s going on at this time and helping keep you in touch, share ideas and resources and tackle isolation. For students needing extra support we’ve been pleased to support the University’s launch of the Big White Wall, a 24/7 online global community offering support from trained professionals. Big White Wall provides a safe space online to get things off your chest, explore your feelings, get creative and learn how to self-manage your mental health and wellbeing.
Guaranteeing your grades aren’t unfairly affected
Following lobbying from Giang, your Academic Officer, for a ‘safety net’ approach to examinations, the University has developed a policy model to ensure ‘no detriment’ to undergraduate students, as long as a pass mark is achieved. This provides a guarantee in advance for students of their lowest final academic year average, taking account of the extraordinary conditions students are facing. Find out more about this, and plans for a scheme for PGT/PGR students here.