She has called for student movement representation in relevant decision-making and policy-shaping bodies.
Miss Durkan said: “We cannot allow students to be treated with contempt – it is not acceptable for their interests to be side-lined, their rights ignored, and their voices lost.
“A lot of the issues arising now could have been addressed and should have been addressed before the opening of the new academic year.
“Over the past month, I have been hearing from upset students and families on a myriad of issues.
“It seems that the interests and incomes of institutions and landlords have been protected and prioritised over students.”
Miss Durkan continued: “The students of 2020 are paying over the odds for a very different learning and social experience.
“It’s not what they signed up for. Financial burdens are compounded by their inability to undertake part-time employment and the barriers they face in accessing social security benefits.
“They are calling out for clarity amidst the chaos. Many of them are feeling stuck an isolated due to travel restrictions.
“During these turbulent times, at the very least these students should be able to leave accommodation without financial penalty, particularly since many have been forced to move back home through circumstances beyond their control.
“They should also have the option of leaving or deferring their course.”
Miss Durkan paid tribute to the student union leaders in the North.
“Full credit to the NUS-USI leadership for their invaluable work in representing the student population, in collaboration with our local Student Union Presidents and NUS and USI counterparts.
“Our student movement leaders need to be at the decision-making table, informing plans and the strategic approach required.
“Such an inclusive approach has been adopted elsewhere.
“The North is the only region on these islands where students were expected to return to campus in the absence of government guidance.
“Our student leaders have been crying out for guidance for months.
“This generation of students cannot afford to be disadvantaged any further.
“I urge all parties to support the Students Deserve Better campaign,” added Cllr Durkan.