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COVID-19 & University: Where Is The Government?

The government hasn't discussed the prospect of university learners returning. The situation is up in the air, with various universities already rolling out policies for their own students.

✏️ Luthien Evans

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson previously set out guidelines regarding the return of some Primary students, this has been revoked due to safety issues. There has been a lot of discussion on this topic- their education has been halted after all. It has been deconstructed as being unsafe and unviable for students to return, especially because of the Government measures currently in place, such as the 2 metre rule. However, the government hasn’t discussed the prospect of university learners returning. The situation is up in the air, with various Universities already rolling out policies for their own students.

This is partially expected as Universities are autonomous bodies and so the Government has little say over these issues. However, the complete lack of recognition is an issue. The non-universal policy is creating confusion, anger and anxiety for thousands, especially those who are due to begin their university life this September.

University responses

The lack of government advice has led universities to release limited information on the return of their students. The University of Manchester was one of the first to change university policy due to COVID-19. The University has decided to provide all lecture content online for the first term. This was seen as the beginning of the trend that would follow.

The University of Cambridge announced what many students were dreading: the entire educational year is to be turned into online content. An entire year of education at one of the most prestigious universities is going to be digitised. This does not include small seminar sessions though. This would not have been an easy decision for Cambridge to make, but they have favoured the safety of their students and staff over economic gains. 

University of Cambridge has been one of the first to announce its’ COVID-19 response. Source: https://www.goodfreephotos.com/england/cambridge/great-wide-angle-of-cambridge-university.jpg.php

Many universities have now been more  vocal in the media and to their own students about their future stance on this issue. However,  the Government is yet to make a statement regarding further education or even a long term plan regarding such instances, like mass gatherings. It is therefore in the hands of individual universities to make statements regarding their return. However, statistics show that 1 in 6 plan on deferring this year due to COVID-uncertainty. Many smaller universities can’t afford the drop in students, the lack of advice is going to cause these universities to face a period of immense economic uncertainty. 

This displays the impact and severity that COVID-19 has caused- an entire year of disruption. So if universities are declaring reduced module choices, small class sizes and, in an increasing number of cases, online education, why was it deemed safe for the younger years to return? It wasn’t safe, especially under their guidelines.

Government response

There’s been a lack of guidance regarding the continuation of higher education. Universities are autonomous bodies. This means they are responsible for the decisions they make independently from the government. This being the case, it is hard for the government to regulate the universities regarding COVID-19. 

However, the Universities Minister has stated that this doesn’t mean they don’t have any say over the matter. Universities technically hold mass educational meetings. The regulation of these meetings falls under the governmental guidelines, yet nothing is being declared.

Despite the government not being able to formally roll out any nation-wide schemes, some information from them would still help to ease the anxiety of students by clarifying the point at which these sorts of gatherings will be allowed. This would ease the pressure on universities, as well as the stress of students, as a rough timeline could be formed. The government could also introduce a policy where students have to be informed of what’s going on with their futures within a specific timeline. This would definitely ease the anxiety levels of thousands who don’t currently know what the future holds. 

Emotional impact upon students

The lack of response from the government combined with the lack of information provided from their own universities has put the lives of thousands up in the air. From current Year 13’s to those already in university, all are affected by this lack of information. 

Although safety is of highest importance, current Year 13’s are facing very damaging prospects. The University experience that they have prepared for their entire educational career could potentially be ripped from them. The first year of university is immensely formative for uni students- friendships and routines- or lack of- are formed here. The lack of response is leading to a lot anxiety. Shout’s Crisis Volunteers have stated that there has been an increase in anxiety-based discussions, especially due to COVID-19. This, in addition to the high deferral rate displays the crisis that is occurring.

University Sports Teams are a perfect way to ease the transition to University- however whether this be allowed this year is still up in the air. Source:https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=310204&picture=gridiron-victoria

Students are now facing thousands of pounds of wasted money due to non-negotiable housing contracts for houses they may now never live in. Plans for work experience placements and study abroad terms are all not being discussed. The future leaders, scientists and doctors are all put into a state of the unknown, with no clear timeline for when their lives will head into some state of normalcy.

This isn’t to say the annoyance at online terms trump precautions for health reasons. But it’s the fact that thousands are being left out of the long-term plans of the country. To move online is reasonable but to ignore this issue entirely is causing a level of uncertainty that is avoidable. This lack of clarity is the issue causing mass anxiety throughout the nation. It is fixable, with a simple statement and yet, the true reality of social distancing taking up to a year to phase out isn’t a message the government wants to be forced to relay- this is their stance. Are the public really ready to hear this? 

Thanks for reading our article! We know young people’s opinions matter and really appreciate everyone who reads us.

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