I completely understand how difficult this past year has been for students in particular, with those of you at Portsmouth University wanting to be back to face-to-face teaching as soon as possible.
I am pleased that students on practical Higher Education courses at English universities who would be unable to complete their courses if they did not return to take part in practical teaching, access specialist facilities, or complete assessments have been able to return to university as of 8 March. Research labs and libraries have also been able to open if needed.
It is also very welcome that all university students who have not yet returned to in-person teaching will be able to do so in line with Step 3 of the Government's roadmap, which will take place no earlier than 17 May. I am assured that students and higher education providers will be given a week's notice of any further easing of restrictions as it affects them in accordance with the timing of Step 3.
I understand that some students may be feeling frustrated at the prospect of continued remote learning until 17 May, at the earliest. I am aware that the Government recognises how difficult and disruptive the last year has been for students, and I welcome that the Mental Health in Education Action Group and the Higher Education Taskforce Mental Health and Wellbeing subgroup will both continue to prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of students and staff. Ministers have worked with the Office for Students to provide Student Space, which is a mental health and wellbeing platform designed to work alongside existing services, to support students throughout the pandemic. I am pleased that this resource has been extended for the whole of the 2020-21 academic year.
Ministers have asked universities to prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of students during this period and have enabled them to use funding, worth up to £256 million for the academic year 2020-21 to go towards student hardship funds and mental health support. Three further funding announcements have seen an additional £85 million of funding made available to support students facing financial pressures has been announced.