The government has announced that all remaining students can return to university no earlier than 17 May.
Responses from university vice-chancellors, higher education bodies, and students have been negative at this news.
Universities UK and the Russell Group had been demanding that the government allow students to return in April amid earlier fears that students may not return until mid-May.
Since 8 March only students on certain practical subjects in certain years had been allowed to return for in-person teaching.
Luke Mepham, Warwick Students’ Union (SU) President, told The Boar: “I am really disappointed that the Government has once again left University students behind. The bizarre decision to not allow the majority of students to return to some form of in-person teaching is again indicative of this Government’s constant disregard for students, their wellbeing, and their education.”
“I am, however, glad that the University is keen to open up as much of the campus as possible over the coming weeks to allow students to study and use campus facilities, if they wish to.”
Megan Clarke, Warwick Students Union Education Officer, told The Boar: “I am disappointed but not surprised that the government has yet again left students behind in their announcement.”
I am really disappointed that the Government has once again left University students behind. The bizarre decision to not allow the majority of students to return to some form of in-person teaching is again indicative of this Government’s constant disregard for students, their wellbeing, and their education
– Luke Mepham
“It is nonsensical that students can go shopping or to the pub yet not return to their seminars, which for some will be the last before they graduate.”
Stuart Croft, University of Warwick vice-chancellor, said in his statement on term three that the lack of news “does not seem to recognise the effectiveness of the safety measures we have put in place, or the importance of in-person provision for the wellbeing and mental health of students, or the list of other sectors allowed to resume in-person activities – including shops, gyms, theme parks and public libraries.”
Professor Christine Ennew, University of Warwick provost, told The Boar: “We share the frustrations and disappointments of all those who had wanted to return to planned face-to-face teaching full blended learning at the start of Term 3 and can’t, but we are pleased that we are we continue to provide able to provide a full blended learning experience, including some elements of face to face teaching where possible within government guidelines.”
“We recognise that access to extra-curricular activities and networks, services and facilities on campus can be beneficial to many students for wellbeing and mental health. We will continue to offer support for students wherever you choose to study.”
Genevieve Holl-Allen, a fourth-year modern languages student at the University of Cambridge, said: “The more our university experience is chipped away, the more our £9,250 feels unjustified. With yet another blow to university students, how much more are we supposed to bear?”
The University of Worcester has advised students to return to campus if this would be better for their wellbeing and mental health, in line with government guidance.
David Green, the vice-chancellor, said it was “ludicrous” students would not be able to access university facilities such as libraries despite similar services being open for the general public.
He said he has written to his staff and other vice-chancellors in the West Midlands to draw attention to a section of Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan’s letter which said “our advice remains that some students, such as those with inadequate study space and/or mental health and wellbeing issues, may need to return to their term time address despite their teaching still being online”.
Professor Green said: “The way in which the minister put it in the letter – I think that is giving a greater emphasis on the policy.”
One university source told The Telegraph “we can’t say it in so many words – but smell the coffee, read between the lines of the emails, if you say you need a library we will let you back even if you have plush home circumstances”.
“We don’t want to be picked up by the Government for appearing to encourage beyond what they think we should do, but we are very sympathetic to students’ requests to come back.”
Higher education sector leaders believe that the reluctance to allow students to return for their teaching and learning comes from fears of another spike in cases like last September, a fear they claim is unfounded.
It is not for us to second guess what state a student is in
– James Tooley, vice-chancellor of Buckingham University
The Office for National Statistics estimates that around three-quarters of students are currently at their term-time university addresses.
Vanessa Wilson, chief executive of the University Alliance, said: “It seems deeply unfair that students may be able to go to the pub or hairdressers and even work in these industries from 12 April, yet will not be able to access the facilities and opportunities on campus to support their learning and career development.”
The National Union of Students (NUS) said that Boris Johnson’s failure to mention students and universities in his 5 April statement was evidence that they were being ignored.
Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, NUS vice-president for higher education, said: “Students have missed out not just on huge swathes of education and hands-on experience this year, but on huge parts of campus life, on top of learning in cramped homes and bedrooms.”
Michelle Donelan had previously said that students “should” be included in the 8 March return for schools. Students will now wait until 17 May. For many students this will be after their teaching and learning would have finished for exam season.
James Tooley, vice-chancellor of Buckingham University said that despite the official ban on students returning, it is very likely “many more” will return to campus after the Easter holidays finish.
He said: “It is not for us to second guess what state a student is in”
“If they say they can’t study where they are, absolutely they can come back. If they are having difficulties, we accept that.”
A petition to allow students to return at the start of term has now reached 11,000 signatures. With 10,000 signatures it mandates a government response.
Professor Ennew also told The Boar: “To provide further support in Term 3, we have worked with the Students’ Union on putting the mitigation package together aligned to the agreed set of principles across our Russell Group peer institutions. The resulting package of mitigation support is specific to the structure of Warwick degrees and the volume of assessment undertaken by students.
“Planning is underway regarding Term 1 of the next academic year. We are using student feedback to inform this planning, whether this is through what you have told us in student surveys, focus groups or other routes this year, and further updates will follow in due course.”