STUDENTS and university staff are furious after the Tory government inst-ructed them to remain in their student halls and not to return home before the lockdown begins tomorrow.
Simultaneously, Johnson’s government has ordered that face-to-face teaching must continue despite the lecturers’ union UCU calling for on-line teaching only.
Students have been banned from returning home, and may not be able to return to their families even over the Christmas break. They are only to be released a couple of days before Christmas Day.
The government’s new proposals require universities in England to end in-person teaching on 8th December and switch to on-line tuition, with students expected to stay on campus until 22 December in a two-weeks lockdown of their own.
The proposals were called ‘unworkable’ by the UCU (University and College Union) while the National Union of Students (NUS) president, Larissa Kennedy, doubted that the government’s legal powers allow it to confine students to campus.
‘We are questioning whether there’s legal precedents to do this and treat students differently than the rest of the population,’ she said.
The NUS says students must have a choice to go home safely ahead of the lockdown.
Universities UK says students should stay in their current accommodation and a mix of face-to-face and online teaching will continue through the lockdown.
‘The government has made it clear that students should remain at university and that teaching, learning and student support should continue,’ Universities UK said.
Tory Universities Minister Michelle Donelan wrote to students and universities instructing them to stay in their term-time addresses until the end of the lockdown on December 8th and for face-to-face teaching to continue.
However, now it now emerges that from December 8th students will be expected to complete an extra 14 days on campus.
The extra two-weeks campus lockdown will have only on-line teaching, and no chance to retune home until December 22.
The NUS says students are concerned about the new restrictions and some will want the ‘support network’ of their family and so must be ‘able to travel home safely before lockdown starts’.
The UCU says teaching must move online to reduce spreading coronavirus by ‘unnecessary journeys to attend campus’.
The union has also launched a legal challenge to the government’s decision to ignore advice from SAGE to move learning at universities online.
There have been Covid outbreaks in 119 universities so far this term, says the Unicovid website, and the UCU says there have been more than 34,000 student cases.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Following updated guidance from the Westminster government, we are calling on vice-chancellors in England to exercise their autonomy and move all non-essential activities online now.
‘Universities must not risk the health and safety of staff and students by allowing non-essential in-person activities to continue. Reducing the amount of in-person teaching and travel to and from campus will minimise the spread of Covid-19 and keep people as safe as possible.’