University students returning to campuses: Is it safe?3 min read

After a 6-month-long closure, universities across the country are finally reopening their campuses. This is following fresh guidance from the government, as the country adjusts to a new kind of normal.

The decision to open Universities may be welcomed by many after what has been, and continues to be, a tumultuous year. Freshers were particularly affected by the abrupt pause in face-to-face learning, with their last academic experience having been their final term of school or college. But university students at any stage of their course may be relieved at encountering even a semblance of normality. 

The Department for Education has instructed universities to employ a mix of both face-to-face and online learning. Where outbreaks have not occurred, lectures are to be given online, while tutorials and seminars may be held on campus with adherence to social distancing, according to the department. 

The decision to reopen campuses triggered mixed reactions. Whilst some were sceptical as to whether this was a safe step to take, others considered it important to bring students back.

Whether to open up or remain closed has certainly been a contentious dilemma. However, setting the boundaries once campus has opened has proven to be a tougher task. 

For many, the experience of university life is an integral part of choosing to pursue a degree over transitioning to the world of full-time work. The social aspect of university life is also alluring to those fresh out of school. But against the backdrop of a global viral pandemic, relaxing measures to give way to a more liberating experience for both the newcomers and those returning may be costly. 

Signs of the grim consequences of opening up are transpiring less than a month after universities opened. The universities of Dundee, Manchester Metropolitan, Bath, Northumbria, Nottingham and amongst many others across the UK have reported cases of COVID-19.

Of course, this cannot solely be attributed to the on-campus teaching operating in those universities. As September drew to a close, images of students throwing parties and defying the government-imposed rule of 6 began emerging on headlines. That’s despite the Prime Minister urging students not to “socially gather” in large groups of more than 6 people, earlier last month.

Whilst the fact that some did not comply with the guidance is concerning, it is not unsurprising. In August, the University and College Union (UCU) raised fears of an imminent public health crisis if students were allowed back.  

The question is, should students have been allowed back to university? 

The short answer would be, perhaps not. It’s wholly irresponsible to be allowing large numbers of people to circulate the country, with a mere plea for students to be sensible. Especially when those urging the public to comply have themselves breached rules.

Fines have been issued to those caught breaking the rules, but fines may not be enough to tackle the problem. After all, the damage would have already been done by that point. More stringent measures ought to be implemented in what is a battle against a deadly disease, with no cure and few treatments.

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Of the stringent measures that may be taken, closing campuses may be the best. Especially considering that many students are already forced to self-isolate within their student accommodation due to the rapid spread of the virus.

 But as recently as the 7th of October, top scientists are now calling for a herd immunity approach. The “leading experts from the universities of Oxford, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Cambridge, Sussex and York” have signed the Great Barrington Declaration that calls for herd immunity as a strategy to move things forward. That is, allow those not at risk or at only a minimal risk to live their lives normally. Moreover, those who are more at risk but would like to live life as normal should have that option. 

Expecting students to make prudent decisions on matters of such genuine significance may not be a very sensible thing to do. So this might just be an indication that bringing them back on campus, was not a step in the right direction. 

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