As higher education institutes contend with the challenges of a coronavirus second wave, Universities UK (UUK) has published a commitment to support self-isolating students.
To accompany this commitment, it has published a checklist to guide universities in protecting student mental health and ensuring students continue to receive a quality education in the case of local lockdown.
Self-isolating students: the checklist
The UUK checklist emphasises the importance of regular, proactive communication with students. Providers are advised to encourage students to raise concerns and ensure the specific needs of those those with disabilities, or health or mental health issues, are supported.
Universities are also asked to work with students’ unions to offer social support during self-isolation, and make sure students are able to observe any religious or cultural observance.
Practical measures such as the delivery of care packages, and the maintaining of key services such as rubbish collection and internet services, are also covered.
The new checklist builds on previous guidance published by UUK in June on the actions universities should consider to support students’ physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. In August, UUK also launched self-isolation guidance specifically for international students and, more recently, Universities Scotland issued its Consistent core of care for students during the pandemic.
We reject any attempt to blame or single out students and will work closely with student unions to support safe behaviours and social interactions – Universities UK
“Despite the challenges we all share, we are committed to ensuring the educational and social experience that this generation of students deserves,” reads today’s commitment.
“The safety and wellbeing of our students, our staff and surrounding communities is our priority. We have worked hard to provide a safe start to the new academic year, offering a blend of online and in-person learning in Covid-safe settings, implementing national guidance on accommodation and risk-assessed social interaction.”
The UUK commitment also praises students for their attitude and behaviour during the first term of the academic year, and calls on the government to provide more support for student wellbeing.
“The pandemic has touched all our lives, with students facing particular challenges in these uncertain times. Our students have shown extraordinary resilience and solidarity with the national effort to overcome the virus. They recognise the shared responsibility to keep themselves and wider communities safe. We reject any attempt to blame or single out students and will work closely with student unions to support safe behaviours and social interactions.
“We will ensure that, when outbreaks occur, students are fully supported to self-isolate.
“Universities prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of our students and staff. We recognise the mental health impact of the pandemic and commit to proactive support. We cannot do this alone and are asking government to commit to step up support for student wellbeing.”
All universities are working in partnership with their local authorities and public health bodies to adapt to the changing local circumstances, to implement outbreak response plans effectively to protect their communities – Julia Buckingham, UUK
Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of Brunel University London said: “All students deserve the right support from universities to ensure that they can continue with their education during this pandemic. Universities are committed to supporting student and staff safety and wellbeing, including implementing many additional measures to increase care and support.
“This is a very challenging time with COVID-19 cases rising in many communities. All universities are working in partnership with their local authorities and public health bodies to adapt to the changing local circumstances, to implement outbreak response plans effectively to protect their communities, and to keep the measures in place to reduce risks under review to ensure that they are effective.”
On Monday [5 October], The Office for Students (OfS) student panel published its own guidelines on supporting self-isolating students during the coronavirus pandemic. These also emphasised the importance of clear communication, practical help and the importance of considering the needs of students from all backgrounds.