Catherine to question Universities Minister on the impact of coronavirus on university students

As Chair of the Petitions Committee, Catherine will later this week virtually question Minister for Universities, Michelle Donelan MP, as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to be felt across the higher education sector. 

The session, taking place over video-link this Thursday, will see Members of the Committee scrutinise the Government and hold the Minister to account. The hearing will include questions on some of the vital issues being raised by students through petitions as the coronavirus crisis continues to frustrate and wreak havoc with the higher education system across the UK.

This latest evidence session comes as unprecedented numbers continue to engage with Parliament and the Petitions Committee on this issue – with tens of thousands of people sharing their views and concerns through social media and more than 28,000 respondents to a survey on the issue.

The historic levels of engagement followed more than 342,000 people signing a petition to reimburse all students of this year’s fees due to strikes and COVID-19. A series of parliamentary petitions relating to the outbreak have received more than 3.7 million signatures across the country.

In an evidence hearing organised by the Petitions Committee last month, Sophie Quinn, a student and the author of the initial petition, told Members how students felt “angry” and “frustrated” as Coronavirus prevented them from getting the education they had paid for. The University of Liverpool student told the Committee “this whole year has been disrupted by strikes and the coronavirus,” before adding that students feel “completely ignored” over the issue.

Catherine McKinnell MP, Chair of the Petitions Committee, said:

“This coronavirus pandemic has had an enormous impact on young people and their education, life experiences and opportunities. The privileges that so many of us have had the fortune to enjoy are now being torn away from younger generations and there is now a growing call for the Government to do something about it. 

“The Government’s response so far has talked a lot about ‘recognising’ and ‘understanding’ the issues, yet there has been little detail of any real action being taken.

“As part of our ongoing inquiry into the Government’s response to coronavirus, the Petitions Committee will be asking the Minister for Universities what action they intend to take to limit the impact of the virus on students. The Government has taken exceptional action to support people and businesses whose income have been affected by coronavirus. We will be challenging the Government as to what action it should be taking to support students whose education has been impacted.

“The Petitions Committee is determined to continue to investigate the impact COVID-19 is having on all communities. As Members of Parliament, we will continue to collect evidence, press for answers, and scrutinise this Government’s response on behalf of petitioners as our country continues to fight this pandemic.”

The oral evidence session, which will be led by the Petitions Committee Chair Catherine McKinnell MP, represents the latest move from the Committee to ensure petitioner’s voices continue to be heard during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twelve weeks on from the start of lockdown, the Committee continue to take an innovative approach in scrutinising and holding the Government to account, from extensive written correspondence and virtual evidence sessions to wide-ranging digital engagement and surveys of petitioners.

The evidence session will take place on Thursday 11 June from 15:30 until 16:30. The session will be broadcast live on Parliament TV and on Parliament’s YouTube Channel.