As a national lockdown suspends on-campus living and in-person teaching for millions, the National Union of Students (NUS) urged the government and universities in England to offer students “substantial support” to avoid a mental health crisis.
In a statement this morning (Tuesday 5 January), NUS vice-president for higher education Hillary Gyebi-Ababio cautioned that “the impact of yet another lockdown on students’ education and welfare will be severe”. She blamed the government’s “inability to deal with the pandemic” for the “sadly necessary national lockdown”.
Ms Gyebi-Ababio said universities must provide “high-quality” online teaching, no-detriment policies, rent rebates, break-clauses in tenancy agreements and online student mental health services. She said the government should help with funding to support this.
“Students have regularly been ignored, lied to and even blamed throughout this pandemic by the government and universities – enough is enough – students deserve better,” Ms Gyebi-Ababio added.
According to the latest government statistics, 383,834 people tested positive for coronavirus in the previous seven days, a near 50% increase on the previous seven days. The escalating caseload threatens to overwhelm NHS services in 21 days, the Chief Medical Officers said yesterday. UCL announced this weekend (Saturday 2 January) that it would delay the return to campus and in-person teaching for almost all students until mid-February “at the earliest”. It said its decision was given with respect to local NHS services which “are at or beyond their capacity” already.
On Wednesday 30 December, following the outbreak of a new, more transmissible variant of coronavirus in south-east England, the sector’s largest union said teaching should remain online until Easter.
The University and College Union (UCU) said the government risked “a national disaster” if students returned to HE campuses in the new year. The union criticised plans to use lateral flow tests in colleges and universities.
In a letter seen by the British Medical Journal, a senior minister in the Department for Health and Social Care, James Bethell, admitted to an MP that the lateral flow tests were “not an accurate way of screening the general population.” Data released from the Liverpool pilot programme in November showed that these types of swab test detect just 48.89% of Covid-19 infections in asymptomatic people compared with a PCR test.
University Business has contacted the Department for Education and Universities UK for comment.