Students at UK universities should not go home in the event of a CCP virus outbreak on their campus, the government said on Wednesday, as the new academic year gets set to begin.
In an announcement at Downing Street of new rules for social gatherings in England, Prime Minister Boris said that to prevent spreading the disease around the country, according to new guidance, if cases on campuses rise students must stay put and not return home.
The guidance comes as cases of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus in younger people are rising sharply.
There has been mixed response from universities to the new government guidelines for the re-opening of universities.
The University and College Union (UCU), the UK’s largest academic union, has criticized the guidelines as “ridiculously irresponsible.”
“The prime minister cannot in good conscience tell students to go back to university when he knows more outbreaks are likely and that would result in them being locked down hundreds of miles from home,” UCU General Secretary Jo Grady said in a statement.
The Russell Group, representing 24 leading UK universities including the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, however, backed the government’s new guidance.
“We welcome the updated guidance from the DfE [Department of Education], which recognizes the work our universities have been doing to ensure campuses are ready and safe for the new academic year,” a spokesperson for the group told The Epoch Times in an email.
“The steps taken by universities will help to reduce transmission on campus and in the wider community, so students will be able to benefit from a blend of high-quality online and face to face teaching delivered in a safe and effective way,” the spokesperson said.
UCU, however, who last month said universities’ default position should be remote learning, is calling for learning to be moved online for the beginning of the new term.
“Data shared at the Prime Minister’s briefing showed that the infection rate among 17 to 21-year-olds is at 50 in 100,000 and increasing sharply. These are the main age groups found in colleges and universities,” the union said in a statement.
UCU said they will ask England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries on Thursday if colleges and universities should move to learning online.
“The sensible thing to do is to move most teaching online for this term and look to reopen campuses more widely only when that can be done safely,” Grady said. “This is not business as usual.”
Students should also be released from accommodation contracts and staff given assurances that they will not have to provide in-person teaching that could be delivered online, Grady said.
Teaching in Person
The government highlighted the detriment to the mental health of students if they do not return to in-person learning.
“The SAGE group has made clear that teaching in person is important and fully online provision would have an impact on students’ mental health,” the Department of Education said in a statement.
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said that universities had made a “mammoth effort” to ensure a safe return to more normal academic life for students.
“The safety and wellbeing of university staff and students is our priority,” she said in a statement.
“The updated guidance includes the recent SAGE advice and will help university leaders access the information they need, and assist their existing plans to keep students and staff as safe as possible,” she said.
The Russell Group additionally called for the government to make sure there was adequate testing capacity in local areas.
“Our universities will continue to work with local authorities to set up a coordinated approach so transmission risks are minimized and any outbreaks can be managed appropriately,” they said.
Grady said the government had given “mixed messages and contradictory advice.”
Her comments follow the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advising last week of the likelihood of cases increasing in higher education settings. Health Secretary Matt Hancock also reportedly warned people in younger age groups not to “kill your gran” by catching and spreading the disease to older people.
The Russell Group emphasized supporting students themselves to take individual responsibility for their behavior while away at university.
“Our members are also working with students to remind them of their duty to the wider community and the importance of following government guidance, with many putting in place new or enhanced agreements on responsible behavior,” they said.
Johnson said on Wednesday, “My message to students is simple. Please, for the sake of your education, for your parents’ and your grandparents’ health, wash your hands, cover your face, make space, and don’t socially gather in groups of more than six now and when term starts.”