Students rage as China campus lockdowns drag on

Some students have been stuck on campus for months despite no local cases being reported

November 25, 2020
A student studies in the library at the New York University Shanghai campus, China.
Source: Getty

Students who are still grounded on campus in parts of China have been questioning the necessity and scientific basis of their universities’ strict Covid policies, arguing that their response to government guidance to facilitate student movement is too slow.

In August, China’s Ministry of Education urged institutions to take a “precise and targeted” approach to epidemic control when students returned for the autumn semester. A month later, the department required universities to avoid “one-size-fits-all management” and to streamline procedures for students needing to travel outside their campus or city. However, the implementation of these guidelines has varied across institutions.

One student at Henan Normal University, who asked to remain anonymous, told Times Higher Education that students have been asked to stay on campus and check in daily using a location-based mobile app since 7 September. Campus security has been upgraded with new CCTV cameras and barbed-wire fences, and there was just a 12-day window for students to enjoy free movement on weekends around the national holiday in early October.

“I think it is unreasonable because the measures are applicable to students only,” the student said. “University staff and their relatives are allowed to move freely, events attended by large number of external visitors were held on campus, [and] local communities have already gone back to normal. Meanwhile, students are not allowed to go out.”

No new local cases of Covid-19 have been reported in Henan province since 28 March. Other institutions in the same city have already lifted restrictions, the student said.

A final-year student based in Hebei province, who said that they had been asked to stay on campus since the beginning of September, claimed that their university was lagging behind neighbouring institutions which had switched to a more flexible Covid strategy.

“Not all applications to leave the campus could be approved, even for an internship opportunity,” the student told THE, who added that takeaways had been banned and that room inspections were frequent.

Similar complaints could be found on social media, with a single Weibo topic asking “when universities will lift restrictions” getting more than 97 million reads.

Some universities, on the other hand, took action swiftly. “We made our contingency plan for the new semester in August to ensure students’ essential travels, study and job hunting remain undisturbed,” said Wang Yiming, deputy director of the academic affairs office at Xi’an Jiaotong University (XJTU). “To fulfil this, information technology plays a critical role.”

XJTU set up a university-wide intelligent management system with a “health ledger” assigned to every student, supported by real-time data collection. A health code could be generated to allow eligible students hassle-free entry and exit multiple times.

When asked why several institutions were still under stringent controls, Mr Wang said they “may be challenged by limited informatisation and face local Covid risks”.

“It takes time to change the mindset about the dynamic health management and Covid strategy in the ‘new norms’, hence progress may vary in different institutions,” he said.

karen.liu@timeshighereducation.com

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