New Covid plan for England could confine university students to halls
Department for Education issues guidelines to combat spread of coronavirus
University students in England could be confined to their halls of residence and barred from going to their family homes in the event of local coronavirus outbreaks, according to new guidance issued by the Department for Education.
The DfE’s guidelines call for universities to take a host of measures to combat the spread of the virus, but warns that institutions must “have the right plans in place to control and manage any local outbreaks” while also encouraging safe social interaction.
University administrators were scrambling to understand how the new policies would affect plans they have already drawn up, with some students and staff having arrived on campus this week, and lectures started at some institutions.
Students with coronavirus symptoms are told to “self-isolate in their current accommodation” such as halls of residence. All other residents in the same household must also isolate for 14 days, and be provided with support by their institution.
The DfE said no funding would be provided to help meet the guidelines, and that additional costs would need to be met from existing budgets.
The guidance recommends the use of disciplinary measures in the event of student non-compliance, as well as suggestions to combat the spread of the virus such as “reducing the sizes of casts in drama” and considering if “some tuition in certain subjects can be conducted outside”.
Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said government data showed infection rates among 18- to 21-year-olds were increasing rapidly, and called for more teaching to be done online rather than follow the “confusing, expensive and at times silly” guidance.“Any country with an infection rate anywhere near that of our young people would be removed from the safe travel list. We cannot see why the government is insisting young people move around the country and engage in unnecessary face-to-face interactions,” Grady said.
A spokesperson for the Russell Group of universities said: “In addition to the steps being taken by our universities, we would urge the government to ensure that sufficient local testing capacity is in place.”
Michelle Donelan, the universities minister for England, said: “Universities have been making a mammoth effort to safely open campuses and buildings to students this autumn, and the government has worked closely with them to ensure they are well prepared for the return of students.”