Stagger student return to campus in January, says Labour Party

Phased return to campus and more clarity on rules for returning international students are needed, says the UK opposition

December 1, 2020
Passenger on a train wearing a face mask
Source: istock

The UK’s opposition party, Labour, has called for the return of students to universities in January to be staggered, saying the current approach risks a repeat of a spike in infections.

Under new proposals outlined by the party on 30 November, students on placements or those whose face-to-face teaching is deemed “essential” would return to campus first, with other students joining them later in the term.

The intervention comes ahead of the seven-day “student travel window” in which millions of students will begin heading home for Christmas, starting on 3 December.

But Emma Hardy, Labour’s shadow universities minister, claimed that the government had provided no guidance for universities or students on how to manage the return to campus in January. She accused ministers of “passing the buck to universities and expecting them to come up with answers where the government has none”.

“Students are about to leave universities for Christmas holidays without knowing when or how they will go back,” said Ms Hardy, adding that “guidance on their safe return must be published without delay to give universities time to put processes in place”.

“The government should adopt Labour’s call to stagger their return and work with universities to deliver this,” she continued, noting the rise in coronavirus infections seen in many UK university cities in and around freshers’ week in September.

Ms Hardy said it was essential that the government ensured that universities have “the appropriate testing capacity available for students’ return to campus”.

International students were also in need of clarity given the possibility that they could carry the coronavirus with them, she added.

In a letter to the universities minister, Michelle Donelan, Ms Hardy asks if international students will be required to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival and enquires about what “guidance will universities be given on supporting students in self-isolation given the damaging impact this could have on their mental health, including the need for continuing extra resources to support domestic students?” She also asks if Ms Donelan’s department will “be putting in place additional steps to ensure international students will be supported on their arrival in the UK”.

In a statement, a government spokeswoman said officials had “set out plans delivering on our commitment to enable students to return home for the Christmas holidays while minimising the risk of transmission”.

“We will provide further guidance in due course on the spring term, which will look to use mass testing on offer and consider the latest scientific advice,” she added, saying the government “understand[s] this has been a very difficult time for students, which is why we have prioritised their education and well-being from the start of this pandemic, by supporting universities to provide a blend of online and in-person learning in a Covid-secure way”.

In the letter, Ms Hardy also asks the government to detail how it will monitor the potential increase in student dropout rates after Christmas.

“Given the significant concerns that have already been expressed about the impact of the Christmas period on the R number, your department’s failure to set out a plan for the return of university students in January is simply irresponsible,” she says.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

Please
or
to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Related articles

Sponsored