A CAMPAIGN launched by a Bournemouth-based group to make it compulsory for all universities to offer reduced accommodation rents to students is close to being considered for debate in Parliament.

Sara Armstrong, from Bournemouth, set up an online community group, Covid in UK Universities and Colleges, in September to allow parents and students to share concerns about how universities are coping under the current restrictions.

The group decided to launch its #Fees4what campaign and set up a petition to enable all students to end university tenancy agreements early due to Covid-19.

As well as campaigning about accommodation fees, the group has also looked to support students in terms of welfare and mental health issues.

Bournemouth University student Kiera Murrell, 20, recently shared an emotional post about the lack of support she says students have suffered during the pandemic.

Sara Armstrong, spokesman of the #Fees4what campaign, said: “A Bournemouth University student went viral for sharing her distress over the treatment of students during this pandemic. It was heartfelt and real.

“At #Fees4what, we’ve been campaigning since the November 2020 lockdown for students’ concerns about their accommodation fees to be heard. We are the concerned parents of hundreds of students who are paying for rooms they now can’t use either in university halls or the private rental sector.

“It is simply unfair that this situation is yet to be addressed properly. It has been batted between the government, universities and landlords, all saying it is someone else’s responsibility when the only people whose responsibility it definitely isn’t, the students, are the only ones carrying it thus far. That has to end.”

Having received a lot of support from other disgruntled parents and students across the UK, the number of people who have signed the petition sits at around 67,000

When the petition reaches 100,000 signatures, this petition will be considered for debate in Parliament. There’s no legal requirement on universities or private landlords to give money back, although Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in his announcement on January 5 that the government in England “will have a look” at university accommodation costs to ensure students are being treated fairly.

Some universities, including Cambridge, London School of Economics and Sheffield, have announced they would not require students living in accommodation that the university owns to pay any rent while they are not living there, whilst other institutions have offered partial rebates for the period students have remained away.

Mrs Armstrong added: “Some universities, about 50 we think, have started to make offers to their students of rent reductions, usually just for the six-week period of this current lockdown until mid-February. This is a start and will help families.

“But this doesn’t begin to deal with the private rental sector and there are many universities still to make any reductions at all.”

The campaign group are also calling for the government, and particularly the Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, to intervene on behalf of students to ensure a fair financial settlement for them.

The government has also been asked to legislate in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to bring the rest of Great Britain into line with Scotland, which legislated in May 2020 for students to have the right to end their tenancies early and to have flexibility in their rental arrangements in light of Covid-19.

“The government and universities needed to take a far more proactive approach to this, particularly as it sits within a host of other student-related issues that require urgent attention,” said Mrs Armstrong.

“Young people have borne a disproportionate burden throughout and they need our help.

“While thousands of students sit at home, worrying about paying rent for a room they’re not using, others are considering returning to their university just to use their room because then the money won’t seem quite as wasted. This is crazy.

“It’s madness and only the government, ministers and MPs have the power to stop it. They must convene the various parties involved and agree a way forwards that addresses the students’ concerns.”

Toi find out more, visit petition.parliament.uk/petitions/553285