26 October 2021

Higher Education for the Nation: Supporting Students

Today we are launching our Higher Education for the Nation: Supporting Students publication, which showcases how universities in Wales used funding provided by the Welsh Government through HEFCW to support students during the pandemic.

The £27 million Higher Education Investment and Recovery (HEIR) fund, announced in August 2020, supported universities to maintain vital capacity, and aid economic recovery in the context of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. We provided another £40 million for “the most vulnerable” students, and for strengthening advice and support services for students, and an additional £10 million so that universities could focus on the particular challenges faced by students during the current Covid-19 pandemic, and financial hardship.

The higher education sector has faced innumerable challenges over the past 18 months, from navigating the sudden pivot to online learning and teaching to tackling student isolation and supporting students in financial hardship to continue their studies.

To manage these challenges, universities invested in digital resources and equipment, enhanced their advice and support services and helped Students’ Unions build their capacity to support student well-being. Universities also provided hardship funding to students in order to support them to continue their studies.

Staff have worked through difficult circumstances to support students to continue their learning online, providing academic and teaching support remotely and adapting provision and assessment design to ensure that students were able to meet learning outcomes.

The hard work and commitment of library, campus and administrative staff over the course of the pandemic has been essential to the ability of the higher education sector to continue to meet the diverse needs of students, providing guidance, distributing hardship funds, food and other essentials, while also ensuring the safety of both staff and students. Professional services staff have worked to continue to provide well-being support to students, who were often juggling the pressures of studying, social isolation, caring responsibilities, illness and financial insecurity.

The case studies featured in this publication show how Students’ Unions have worked tirelessly to support professional services staff to deliver counselling and well-being events to students remotely, and lead their own initiatives to help build a sense of community between students unable to meet face-to-face. Student volunteers supported the work of staff and Students’ Unions to deliver civic mission activities and engaged in the various initiatives featured in this publication to ensure their success.

The higher education sector’s investment to develop support service and Students’ Union capacity and digital resources to deal with the challenges arising from the pandemic will have a positive, lasting impact on the inclusivity and resilience of Welsh higher education.

Dr Cliona O’Neill, Head of Student Experience at HEFCW, said: “The higher education sector’s response to the pandemic has not only showed the strength of the sector in its ability to adapt to operate in an entirely different context in a short space of time, but has also demonstrated the value of collective learning. The lessons learned from the pandemic will continue to add value to the student experience, making for more inclusive practice, and enabling students from all kinds of backgrounds to engage in higher education, which will be vital in the context of post-pandemic recovery.”

Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, said in the foreword to the publication: “Our priority has been students, ensuring they have been properly supported throughout the pandemic through targeted mental health and well-being services and enhanced student hardship funds. We have also ensured our institutions were supported in mitigating the effects of the pandemic and were able to maintain capacity to deliver teaching, learning and research activities as well as other crucial activities and services. The sector has proved itself to be flexible, adaptable and resilient in the toughest of situations.”