Universities UK (UUK) have urged the British government to pay attention to the needs of students when considering how it is going to ease the lockdown restrictions imposed because of the pandemic.
In February, a roadmap on how these schools can operate in a pandemic-enforced state was announced and since then, several universities have upped their preparations for the return of students to their campuses from April 12. The preparations have involved how the school could combine both blended teaching and learning, how the students would be opportuned to use libraries and other places like the computing and studio spaces, on-campus sport activities, graduate bootcamps, and the creative use of outdoor space which would be in tandem with principles laid down by the government. All of these are geared towards encouraging group work, social interaction and also providing students with the best experience during the remaining period of the academic year.
But despite this high level of preparation and the overall success recorded during staggered student returns experienced in January and March, there are concerns that the April 12 date could be shifted to May 17. This is despite the impeccable evidence that the earlier date was going to help improve the mental wellbeing, and also the development of these students who have mostly experienced remote teaching and had little to no access to the school facilities in the last one year.
UUK President urges government not to balk
UUK, an association that represents 140 universities in the country, through its president, Professor Julia Buckingham has beseeched the government not to go back on its word. Instead, she urges them to see the plan through and not take the resilience of the university students for granted. In the words of the president, “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 professor went on to highlight the fact that all necessary precautions have been taken on the path of the universities stating that “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.”
The government had earlier stated that it wouldn’t hurry into making a decision as it would depend on “data not dates” for its decision. This was also highlighted by the UUK president who continued her statement by saying that “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.”
At the end, UUK argued that “the government must not take their (the students) resilience for granted,” while urging for the schools to be reopened.
In response to the words of the UUK president, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said that the government was working towards bringing all students back on campus, however, “decisions will take into account the need to protect progress across the wider roadmap out of the pandemic, including the spread of the virus in communities and pressures on the NHS.”