Universities UK has today urged the government not to ignore the needs of over a million university students when deciding how to further ease lockdown restrictions in England.
Following the announcement of the roadmap in February, universities have been preparing extensively for a final phase of student returns from 12 April, and a range of Covid-safe in-person activities are planned to give students the best possible experience for the remainder of the academic year. These include blended teaching and learning, opportunities to use library, computing and studio spaces, on-campus sport, graduate support bootcamps, and creative use of outdoor space – in accordance with government guidance – to encourage group work and social interaction.
Other areas of the economy – including shops classed by the government as non-essential – are set for a welcome return to business on 12 April. But concerns are growing that the next stage of student returns will be delayed until 17 May at the earliest – despite exceptional campus safety records following staggers in January and March, and strong evidence of the benefits that a 12 April return would bring to the mental health, wellbeing and development of those students who have had no in-person teaching or access to facilities this year.
Professor Julia Buckingham, President, Universities UK said:
“University students have been extremely tolerant in the face of huge disruption and a radically different experience this year, and have willingly made sacrifices in the interests of public safety. But the government must not take their resilience for granted.
“Universities are fully prepared and looking forward to welcoming students back to Covid-secure environments as soon as possible after Easter, with a variety of enriching activities on offer including in-person teaching, access to study spaces, studios, and sports facilities, alongside additional support and catch-up programmes for those due to graduate this year.
“The government has said that decisions will be based on data, not dates. Universities have proven that the safety measures put in place – including regular asymptomatic testing, additional cleaning, support for self-isolating students and adherence to guidance on ventilation and face coverings – have enabled effective management of the virus on campuses, with minimal infection rates in face-to-face teaching settings and limited onward transmission to local communities.
“When making this decision, we urge the government to take account of the rigorous Covid-safety measures universities have implemented as well as the clear benefits for students of a 12 April return.”