Students should be allowed to return home and continue their learning online, according to students and lecturers.
With Covid-19 outbreaks at nearly half of the UK’s 130 universities, the National Union of Students (NUS) and University and College Union (UCU) have both argued for this to be allowed.
Outbreaks of the virus have been reported at 50 universities, including 117 cases at the University of Edinburgh and 82 cases at the University of Aberdeen.
In a joint statement, the NUS and UCU argued that the UK government needed to “take urgent action to support and protect staff and students on our campuses and the wider communities that they serve”.
The unions have argued that university campuses should remain open but that “campus life needs a radical overhaul to keep us all safe and limit in-person contact”.
NUS president Larissa Kennedy has argued the situation has worsened mental health, though the government has reassured students that they will be allowed home over Christmas.
[The] ongoing uncertainty students face is exacerbating poor mental health, debt and needlessly puts lives at risk. Put simply – students deserve better
– NUS president Larissa Kennedy
Ms Kennedy stated that “over the past few months, students have repeatedly been encouraged to move, ensuring that universities and accommodation companies could collect tuition fees and rent whilst leaving thousands of students trapped in halls, with many struggling to access food, basic amenities and wellbeing resources”.
Ms Kennedy also argued that the “ongoing uncertainty students face is exacerbating poor mental health, debt and needlessly puts lives at risk. Put simply – students deserve better”.
The unions have also argued that students should not face tougher regulations than other groups and shouldn’t be forced to quarantine where they have no proper support network.
UCU general secretary Dr Jo Grady stated that ministers “need to act now and tell universities to halt in-person teaching where possible and move the majority of work online, in line with other workplaces” and that the government “have to guarantee funding for universities to safeguard institutions’ finances and protect jobs”.
Some universities have already began to return teaching online with Manchester Metropolitan University moving all foundation and first year teaching online, while Aberystwyth University has moved all teaching online for the week commencing 5 October.