University leaders have called for students to be allowed to return to campus amid fears that students may not return for teaching until mid-May at the earliest.
They have argued that students’ mental health and development would be positively affected by returning, and warned the government not to take students’ “resilience for granted”.
Professor Jane Buckingham, president of Universities UK which represents university vice-chancellors, said that a return from 12 April would have “clear benefits” for students.
She 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. 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.”
This comes as Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister, has admitted that students have missed out on the “university experience” this last year.
Dr Tim Bradshaw, the Russell Groups’ chief executive, said that there were currently “very low overall infection rates on campus despite the majority of students now being back in their term-time accommodation”.
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.
– Professor Jane Buckingham
He said: “We are particularly concerned about the impact on student mental health and that some students may not be able to take part in extra activities universities have planned for the rest of the year that would aim to boost employability, consolidate learning, and help build networks that could be vital for their future success.”
The last year has seen universities transition to remote learning, with many students having to isolate in poor quality accommodation. There have also been rent strikes and tuition fee strikes at various universities across the UK.
The University and College Union (UCU) warned that now was not the time for students to return, as it would risk public safety.
Dr Jo Grady, the UCU’s general secretary, instead said that the drive for students to return “smacks of self-interest”.
She said: “Universities should not now be asking hundreds of thousands of students to return for in-person teaching after Easter when most courses will only have revision classes and exams left.”
“It will be much safer to remain online until the start of the next academic year when many more people will have been vaccinated.”
The government has said they will review whether all students will be allowed back for in-person teaching by the end of the Easter holidays.