Over a third of students don’t feel safe returning to face-to-face teaching in September – NUS

The union asks universities to prioritise student safety over the “marketing ploy” of filling classrooms before it’s safe

A new survey conducted by the National Union of Students (NUS) has found that students would feel safer resuming face-to-face teaching, and returning to their accommodation, in January 2021 rather than this September.

The poll of 1,067 students sought to measure students’ confidence in their own safety when campuses reopen after the Covid-19 lockdown.

  • Over a third of respondents said they would not feel safe at all with face-to-face teaching in September 2020, including two fifths of international students.
  • Only 13% said they would not feel safe at all if this approach was used from January 2021.
  • 22% of students said they feel extremely safe to enter or return to accommodation in September compared to 43% in January 2021.
  • 9 in 10 students felt safe to return to education if they are taught exclusively online.
  • 1 in four students don’t feel safe at all with moving into new accommodation in September.

No university should be promising to put students back into classrooms too quickly as a marketing ploy to guarantee their income in an already failing higher education market – Larissa Kennedy, NUS president

Students said they would feel safer if the following measures were implemented:

  • Professional cleaning of all residences prior to moving in
  • Regular and frequent cleaning
  • Provision of hand sanitiser
  • Staggered move in times/days
  • Fewer students per flat/limited guests

“Student safety must be the priority for anyone making decisions as to how campuses are planning to reopen in September,” said NUS president Larissa Kennedy.

“The government must work with colleges and universities to provide clarity as to how they will keep students safe. These results make it clear that many students will be nervous about their return to education and need reassurances that institutions will be acting in their best interests.

“It is important institutions take measures to do this in light of the ever changing pandemic and provide students with clarity as to what they can expect from the next academic year. No university should be promising to put students back into classrooms too quickly as a marketing ploy to guarantee their income in an already failing higher education market.

“Any attempt to bring students back into face-to-face teaching too early will undermine confidence in the university’s approach. Instead students must be consulted with as part of this process and it is crucial for universities to work with their students’ unions to facilitate the reopening of campuses, when it is safe to do so. Black and brown communities, disabled people, and those at the intersections, have been disproportionately impacted by coronavirus, and these students’ voices must be heard in shaping colleges and universities’ next steps.

“Students will also be concerned as to how they can enter accommodation safety and it is essential for all housing providers to lay out plans for how safety can be guaranteed under the current guidelines. We would encourage accommodation providers to introduce extra measures for this academic year such as regular and frequent cleaning and provision of personal hygiene equipment.”

A recent survey undertaken by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) found less than half have received clear information from their university about what to expect when semesters restart in the autumn.


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