Student returns: government must explain ‘rationale’ for delay, says Labour

Shadow universities minister Matt Western says Michelle Donelan should explain the government decision not to allow universities to restart in-person teaching for all students

Labour shadow universities minister Matt Western has accused his opposite number of failing to offer the sector leadership and called on the government to explain why not all students can return to campuses.

The newly appointed shadow universities minister today wrote to Michelle Donelan to demand that the government share its risk assessment for universities “and the specific measures which need to be met to permit the full return of students to campuses”.

Mr Western, MP for Warwick and Leamington, told the universities minister: “Students need to understand the rationale for a different approach between HE and FE sectors”.

Nearly a half of undergraduates can experience in-person teaching, Western said, “[and] 74% of students are already back in term-time accommodation, with many having been for some time”.

“In this context, what is the rationale for delaying the review of students’ return until the end of the Easter holidays?” the shadow minister asked.

He continued: “[C]an you please confirm exactly when your view of the return to face-to-face learning will report, and when students can expect to be returning to campus? Millions of students and staff are looking to you for leadership and certainty, and are seeing other sectors opening up while hearing nothing about higher education, so I’m sure you’ll appreciate the urgency in responding.”

What is the rationale for delaying the review of students’ return until the end of the Easter holidays?
– Matt Western, shadow universities minister

Universities UK recently wrote to the prime minister to express their frustration at having been omitted from the list of sectors permitted to reopen in England under Covid-secure conditions, describing the situation as “illogical”.

The government has allowed students of key vocational disciplines, like healthcare and teaching, and those on practical or practice-based subjects, like laboratory-based sciences and performing arts, to return to HE campuses.

The UUK president, Prof Julia Buckingham said: “The list of sectors which are allowed to operate in-person activities in England from 12 April is extensive – all shops, personal care businesses, gyms, spas, zoos, theme parks, public libraries and community centres – and restrictions will be lifted enabling people to travel anywhere in England for a self-catering holiday.

“It, therefore, seems illogical that students are not allowed to return to their self-catering accommodation and resume their studies in Covid-safe university facilities, particularly at this crucial time of the academic year.”


Read more: Fifth of students could not pay rent this winter – NUS

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