Not allowing university students in England back on campus until mid-May branded ‘illogical’

Robert Dex
·3-min read
<p>Decision not to allow students in England back on Campus until mid-May has been criticised</p> (PA)

Decision not to allow students in England back on Campus until mid-May has been criticised

(PA)

A decision not to allow university students in England to return to campus until mid-May has been branded “unfathomable” and “illogical” by academic leaders.

The Department for Education (DfE) expects all remaining students to return to in-person teaching on campus when further easing of restrictions on social contact indoors is confirmed, which will be no earlier than May 17.

But progression to the next stage of the road map will be dependent on a review of the latest data and the impact of other restrictions being eased this month.

Most students in England – apart from those on critical courses – were told not to return to campus as part of the lockdown announced in January.

University students on practical courses, who require specialist equipment and facilities, began returning to face-to-face teaching on March 8.

It is estimated around half of university students in England are currently not eligible to return to in-person teaching.

In a written ministerial statement, universities minister Michelle Donelan said all remaining students will be advised not to return to face-to-face lessons on campus until mid-May at the earliest.

She said: “The movement of students across the country poses a risk for the transmission of the virus – particularly because of the higher prevalence and rates of transmission of new variants.

“Students who have returned to higher education settings should not move back and forward between their permanent home and student home during term time unless they meet one of the exemptions.”

Professor Graham Galbraith, vice-chancellor at the University of Portsmouth, said delaying the return of all students was “unfathomable”.

He added: “That this date is after many universities will have finished their teaching year shows a Government with a cavalier disregard for details. This isn’t good enough.

“Students can now buy a book on British history in Waterstones and discuss it with a tattoo artist while they have their body decorated, but they cannot do the same thing in a Covid-secure environment with their university lecturer.”

In a recent letter to Boris Johnson, Professor Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK (UUK), which represents vice-chancellors, said it was “illogical” to open shops, gyms, spas, zoos, theme parks, libraries and community centres on April 12 but not allow students to return to campus.

A parliamentary petition calling for students to be allowed to return to university at the start of the summer term has more than 6,000 signatures.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, vice president for higher education at the National Union of Students, said: “Students have missed out not just on huge swathes of education and hands-on experience this year, but on experiencing campus life.

“Having experienced so much injustice, students deserve better than being disregarded by the Government time and time again.”

Recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests around three-quarters of students (76%) are living at the same address as they were at the start of the autumn term.

Students who need additional mental health support, or who do not have access to appropriate study spaces in their vacation accommodation, are allowed to return to term-time accommodation.

Ms Donelan said: “We have asked providers to consider opening facilities to support those who have returned to their term-time accommodation alongside those who have resumed in-person teaching and learning; this is to safeguard students’ wellbeing and to prevent isolation and mental ill health.”

The DfE will make an additional £15 million of funding available for student hardship this academic year, she added.

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