Let students go home without financial penalties, say unions

UCU and NUS say there should be ‘no financial detriment’ to students who give up accommodation or leave their course

October 1, 2020
Student going home
Source: iStock

Students should be allowed to safely leave UK campuses if they want to and without fear of losing money from accommodation or tuition costs, unions have said.

In a joint statement the University and College Union and the National Union of Students called on the Westminster government to “take urgent action to support and protect staff and students on our campuses and the wider communities that they serve”.

About 50 universities have already reported outbreaks on campus. Some of the largest outbreaks are at Scottish institutions: on 30 September the University of Edinburgh said that a total of 117 coronavirus cases had been reported to the university by students and staff, while 82 cases have now been identified at the University of Aberdeen, and 74 cases at the University of Dundee.

The unions said they recognised that universities needed to remain open but said that “campus life needs a radical overhaul to keep us all safe and limit in-person contact”.

This includes making sure students do not feel forced to move on to campus. They said that students “must be allowed to safely return home if they wish to, without fear of financial penalty for leaving their student accommodation” or if they wish to defer or leave university altogether.

Thousands of students are now isolating in their student residencies due to the outbreaks. Education secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed this week that university students will be able to leave their campuses for Christmas, although some may have to self-isolate first.

Students should not be subject to tougher restrictions than the rest of society and forced to quarantine in places where they have no familiar support network or pastoral care, the unions said. NUS and UCU said that they had been “inundated” with reports of students being unable to access food or mental health services or feeling they cannot leave their accommodation because of their rental contract. Staff had reported being asked to return to work while still sick and told to continue face-to-face teaching despite outbreaks in other parts of the university, the unions claimed.

Universities must now provide as much online learning as possible and staff should not be on campus if they are able to work safely at home, the statement said.

Some universities have already begun to shift teaching back online. Manchester Metropolitan University, where about 1,700 students have been placed in isolation for a fortnight after 127 tested positive, has moved all foundation and first-year teaching online, and Aberystwyth University has said that all teaching will be online-only this week.

“We will continue to make representations locally and nationally to ensure this government and universities put the public health crisis and safety of people above profit and the marketisation of our education system,” NUS and UCU said.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

"About 50 universities have already reported outbreaks on campus." Indeed, but how many are being economic with the truth?
Good point...

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