University and student union leaders have written to the prime minister to call for a return to in-person teaching from 12 April.
The open letter – organised by University Alliance (UA), which represents professional and technical universities – was signed by 40 chancellors, chairs of governing bodies, vice-chancellors and student union presidents.
It follows last week’s statement by Universities UK which also asked the government to allow a 12 April return to campus for all students.
The UA letter says that allowing a return to campus would enable universities “to offer students, particularly those graduating, additional employability support and development activities. This will be vital in aiding preparation for entering an uncertain job market and ensuring this generation of students is not further disadvantaged as a result of this pandemic, and equip them to best support our national renewal efforts.”
It goes on to raise concerns that any further delay to the resumption of normal campus life “has huge and worrying ramifications for the mental health and wellbeing of our students, who have already experienced significant increases in anxiety and isolation as a result of the absence of in-person teaching and interaction with their peers. Should students continue to be prevented from accessing in-person teaching and on-campus facilities and experiences, we fear the damage being done to our students’ mental health and wellbeing will be long-lasting.”
The letter says that universities are well prepared to welcome students back safely, pointing to the millions of pounds invested to ensure campuses are Covid safe and secure, and the data showing little evidence of on-campus infection or transmission within the wider community.
“We are urging the prime minister to uphold his public commitment that education would be the first sector to re-open after the national lockdown, and allow university students to return to in-person teaching and on-campus activities,” said Professor Debra Humphris, chair of University Alliance and vice-chancellor of the University of Brighton.
“This current generation of students have displayed exceptional resilience throughout this crisis, but we must not take this for granted, and we are determined to ensure they are given the best chance to succeed after the most challenging year.
“As we face up to the challenges and opportunities of the months and years ahead of us, with the recovery from Covid and chance to forge a new path in the world post-Brexit, it is surely the talent and skills of this generation of graduates who will help build back Britain better. We should be giving our brightest minds and our future workforce the best start, so that in return, Alliance universities and our students can help power our economic, social and cultural future.”
The full list of signatories includes Sir Lenny Henry (chancellor, Birmingham City University), Lord Boateng (chancellor, University of Greenwich) and Lord Salisbury (chancellor, University of Hertfordshire).
Read the open letter in full.
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