UK ‘must solve’ quarantine capacity problem for red-list students

Governments urged to work with universities to expand capacity or system could be ‘overwhelmed’, forcing students to learn online at home

July 20, 2021
Visitors wearing a face mask  during their visit to the re-opened Model Village for UK quarantine capacity for red-list arrivals risks being ‘overwhelmed’
Source: Getty

The arrival in the UK of a potential 100,000 international students from Covid red-list countries in the coming months presents a “clear quarantine-capacity problem” that could “overwhelm” the system, with allowing universities to use their own accommodation for quarantine one possible solution discussed in the sector.

Travellers with residence rights in the UK arriving from red-list countries are required to quarantine for 10 full days in a managed quarantine hotel.

With nations such as India and now Indonesia on the red list, overseas students alone could pose a problem in terms of quarantine hotel room numbers – reported to be a maximum of 28,000 when the red-list system launched in February, but potentially lower now.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is thought to have recently set up a managed quarantine board focused on the international student issue to address the looming problem.

One potential solution to expand capacity could be for universities to use their own accommodation to quarantine students, but that would necessitate changes in government requirements.

Paul Blomfield, the Labour MP who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students, said strong international student movement was a huge positive, “but there’s the potential for it to overwhelm the quarantine system”.

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, said: “There will be something like 100,000 students [coming to the UK from red-list countries] between the beginning of summer and mid-October – that’s if the red list stays as it is. So there’s a clear [quarantine] capacity problem.”

The Westminster government has introduced a temporary concession allowing universities, normally required to monitor the in-person attendance of international students under visa sponsorship rules, “to provide tuition via distance learning for international students studying overseas”. It has since extended that concession to April 2022 – but international students are likely to be dismayed if a lack of quarantine beds forces them into online education at home.

The concession was “exceptionally important, because our fallback plan is making sure universities can stagger arrivals if they need to”, said Ms Stern.

But at the same time UUK was also “working with DHSC to see what other options there might be…So, for example, if they changed some of the requirements around quarantine capacity, it could be that universities might be able to be sites for quarantine accommodation,” she continued.

However, under current requirements, that would be “unworkable” as “you basically have to have hotel-standard accommodation [to be a quarantine site] – in practice, that’s just not going to be possible for most universities”, she said.

In Scotland, it is thought that the number of students expected to require quarantine is around 8,000 – but that only about 900 spaces are available in hotels. The use of cruise ships to quarantine international students is reportedly under consideration by the Scottish government.

In England, Ms Stern said, UUK has also posed the question of whether the list of airports designated to receive red-list arrivals, currently including seven airports, could be expanded “because then you would have a new pool of hotels you could use” and whether it could be possible to increase the “permitted travel time [to quarantine accommodation] from the current two-hour limit, which would again give you more options”.

Mr Blomfield said universities “ought to be given the opportunity to work with local hotels to develop a quarantine system that suits incoming students”, which “just requires the government to work with universities to identify additional provision”.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: UK quarantine capacity for red-list arrivals risks being ‘overwhelmed’

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Reader's comments (3)

The sensible move would be to use a designated block of student accommodation to quarantine 'red list country' arrivals, provided the necessary services such as meal/food deliveries can be arranged for them in a safe and economic manner. There's an advantage in that student accommodation generally has decent wifi so students can get on with their studies - the government-sponsored quarantine hotels often have poor service which would disadvantage those who need to get online. Likely cheaper than the disproportionate cost of the government-provided facilities, too. As for what the government thinks about that, present them with a fait accompli. This is what we are doing to satisfy the quarantine requirements, end of. Sitting around waiting for them to maybe do something about the situation is not, given the poor service so far, an option.
Universities should provide quarantine accomodations to their students it's helpful both for student and Govt Many students are facing issue of booking in managed quarantine hotels and are under stress as international students pay lot of fee So , university as quarantine accomodations plus increase in redlist arrival airport is best way to solve this inssue Many students and their dependents are facing stress of stickers visa expiry date also What Govt think about that Plz give permission to universities they better managed their students
Universities should provide quarantine accomodations to their students it's helpful both for student and Govt Many students are facing issue of booking in managed quarantine hotels and are under stress as international students pay lot of fee So , university as quarantine accomodations plus increase in redlist arrival airport is best way to solve this inssue Many students and their dependents are facing stress of stickers visa expiry date also What Govt think about that Plz give permission to universities they better managed their students

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