An estimated 110 UK universities have reported cases of Covid-19 outbreaks, with around 15,000 students and staff infected so far, since the term began four weeks ago. The University of Nottingham alone has reported 1,500 active cases among students at the end of last week, out of its 35,000 students enrolled, along with 20 members staff. The week before just 400 cases had been reported.
Lawrence Waterman OBE, Chair of the British Safety Council expressed his frustration: “the commitment had to be that students could attend universities and stay in halls of residence if the support was in place, including an effective system for testing, contact tracing and isolating. This did not happen and instead Universities were given the choice to allow students back to halls and of course, in the context of a second wave, the result is predictable.
We understand the need for students to be at college, for their education, development and of course their mental wellbeing. We also understand that some courses require face to face classroom-based teaching. Yet when we hear that Sage urged ministers to impose a circuit breaker lockdown on 21 September, including a requirement that all university and college teaching should be online, we understand why lecturers and others are getting angry.
Where some students have to attend classes and live in halls of residence, we must ensure they are as Covid-secure as possible. The British Safety Council’s own Covid Assurance Assessment service can help ensure the right control measures are in place. Together, with students following rules of social distancing, we can reduce the risks they and their fellow-students, friends and family face. However, the deal must be that Government and Universities do more to support these students: pastoral care to support their mental wellbeing, restoration of maintenance grants and of course an effective testing system. For the rest, students need to be released from their accommodation and return home to study remotely.”