Let them home for Christmas: calls grow to help stricken students

27 September 2020, 22:05 | Updated: 7 June 2023, 08:56

Shadow Education Secretary on delaying start of university terms

Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

Concerns have been heightened again for students across the country as the government warned everyone must "pull together" to get them home in time for Christmas.

Thousands of students are already stuck isolating from coronavirus in their rooms at Glasgow, Manchester Metropolitan and Edinburgh Napier - prompting calls for officials to guarantee "a safe journey home" for the festive period.

Leading the calls on Sunday was shadow education secretary Kate Green, who urged the government to "promise" students wouldn't face such restrictions amid Covid-19 campus outbreaks.

She argued it would be "deeply unfair to see students forced to remain in their student accommodation" as she asked for guaranteed access to testing.

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari on Monday morning, Ms Green said the reports of students being forcibly kept in their accommodation by security were "concerning".

Manchester Metropolitan University has assured that students' welfare is a 'top priority'
Manchester Metropolitan University has assured that students' welfare is a 'top priority'. Picture: PA

“We’re very anxious that students cant go home at Christmas. Theyre already feeling very desperate, this is not good for their mental health or wellbeing," she added.

"They’ve been effectively locked away, they can’t live their normal lives, so I think it's really important that the government makes an effort so those students can go home safely at Christmas.

Tthat’s why the testing capacity is so important. Obviously public health comes first, I'm not suggesting people should be travelling about if that’s going to spread the infection and that’s true of students who are at university now but I do think that we need to look at peoples mental health and wellbeing as well as their physical safety.

"It’s really concerning to hear these students can’t even go out to get a test, aren’t able to access some of the universities support services because they cant leave their halls."

READ MORE: Let university students go home for Christmas, Labour urges government

But Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden warned the measure could only be possible if the country "pulls together" and follows ongoing social distancing guidelines.

His comments followed Health Secretary Matt Hancock last week declining to rule out asking students to stay on campus at Christmas, while government scientific adviser Sir Mark Walport warned it may be necessary to stop the virus spreading to older relatives.

READ MORE: NHS Covid-19 app - How does it work and what are the problems with it?

Student criticises 'inhumane' detention of students in halls

It comes as students under current lockdown restrictions at one institution suggested measures were a form of "false imprisonment," while human rights lawyers queried the legality of security staff enforcing a two-week isolation.

READ MORE: Culture Secretary admits 'teething problems' with failing NHS Test and Trace app

Dominic Waddell, 21, a first-year filmmaking student at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: "I have heard people mentioning claims of false imprisonment.

"There's a great deal of anger, people aren't very happy with how the university has run it.

"We're the ones that allow them to keep running because we're the ones that give them this money and now they're locking us in the homes we're paying for."

Meanwhile, bosses at the same university, which saw 127 people test positive for Covid-19, have insisted students cannot be prevented from leaving their accommodation, but "trust that they will do the right thing".

READ MORE: Local lockdowns introduced in three more Welsh areas

Professor Linda Bauld on campus lockdowns

In her letter, Ms Green suggested institutions consider delaying the beginning of their terms, or offering a "pause in migration" where term has not yet begun to allow for improvements in testing capacity.

She added: "Leaving home to go to university should be a momentous and exciting step for young people and their families.

"Universities have done all they can to prepare for students' safe return, but the government has again let young people down."

Turning again to Christmas plans, Ms Green said it would be "unthinkable" to confine students to their rooms and called for a fast resolution to the "critical situation".

READ MORE: Coronavirus cases fall for second consecutive day as 5,693 infections reported

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "The government is working closely with universities to ensure they are well prepared for the return of students, and we have published guidance to help them keep students and staff as safe as possible.

"Students should follow the latest health advice, just like the wider public, which means they should stay at university in the event that they have symptoms, have to isolate, there are additional restrictions imposed locally, or there is an outbreak on campus or in their accommodation.

"We will continue monitoring the situation very closely and follow Public Health England advice, adapting policies to best support students and providers."