‘Go home’ advice causing confusion among stranded students

The coronavirus will have a ‘massive effect’ on the international student market, and UK universities need to be clearer about their guidance and support for those students, experts have warned

三月 24, 2020
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UK universities have been warned that they need to step up their support for international students, as conflicting travel advice at some institutions has created panic.

Several Cambridge colleges have been criticised for causing alarm when they sent out emails instructing international students to “go home” immediately.

“One day we were told to stay, then the next we were told to leave as soon as possible, but some of us are unable to travel home,” one student told Times Higher Education, adding that they had found it incredibly difficult to persuade their college to let them delay their exit by just one day after the suggested time frame.

Another student posted on Facebook about their experience, in which their tutor insisted they find a way to leave despite government advice not to travel back to China. “Students are just a source of income for college − and a burden to get rid of at first instance when crisis comes,” they wrote.

Ruth Lawlor, anti-casualisation officer for the Cambridge branch of the University and College Union, told THE that international students who were encouraged by their colleges to leave, “some more strongly than others”, were distressed by the advice to “go home”.

“It’s very reminiscent of the government’s hostile environment policy. For many, especially graduate students, Cambridge is home,” she said. Some colleges have since toned down their language and introduced caveats that it is only if they have nowhere else to go. “But that’s not really sufficient,” Dr Lawlor added.

Many countries are in the midst of severe outbreaks of coronavirus and many have closed their borders, while some students are worried about what leaving could do to their visa status.

Dr Lawlor said there had been “a lack of coordination and a short-sighted strategy in terms of dealing with something that we knew was coming for several weeks”.

“It has caused a lot of panic, because of how severe the wording was. Some students immediately shelled out huge sums of money on plane tickets,” she said.

In a statement, Cambridge said: “To be clear, no students who cannot go home are being evicted by their college.”

The situation has caused anxiety at many other universities too. Students at St Andrews were told to “go home without delay”, but also that the university would do what it could for those who could not travel. Josef Fruehwald, a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, said that he had “received a lot of panicked emails from students” after the university said that Tier 4 visa students may need to take an interruption of studies, which would invalidate their visa.

The Home Office has said that it “will not take any compliance action against students or employees who are unable to attend their studies/work due to the coronavirus outbreak”. However, Dr Fruehwald warned that there was still a lot of confusion around how coronavirus travel and moves to online teaching would affect visas.

He said the outcome has been that “international students and staff now feel as if they are seen as liabilities”.

A spokeswoman for Universities UK said it was important for universities to note that “‘closures’ can be defined in many ways and can cause anxiety among students who cannot return home”.

“Universities have a commitment to students who live on campus and will ensure catering, cleaning and security arrangements are in place to support those who cannot return home,” she said.  

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that if universities are seen not to be looking after students or giving them clear guidance “it will cause reputational damage” to the UK’s higher education sector.

Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, said the outbreak will have a “massive effect” on the international student market in the UK.

“Although studies are going online, there are other reasons for being in the country apart from the educational programme itself, such as learning a language, which they can’t access through online teaching.” 

“The first round is going to run longer here, as we’re behind on the lockdowns, etc. That’s going to cost us,” he said. “Once the students leave, they are not going to return quickly. That will certainly disrupt things.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Print headline: ‘Go home’ advice generates panic

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