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Students 'disappointed' graduations to be held online while other events go ahead

14 March 2021, 15:55 | Updated: 15 March 2021, 10:18

In Belgium students graduated wearing masks in October, but some universities say this isn't possible in the UK this summer.
In Belgium students graduated wearing masks in October, but some universities say this isn't possible in the UK this summer. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

Students at some universities have told LBC they are frustrated and disappointed that their summer graduations will be online only, despite plans for music festivals and football tournaments in the UK this summer.

Despite the lockdown roadmap in England suggesting that mass events will be permitted from 21 June, some universities, including York and University College London, have told their students there is no chance of an in-person event this summer.

This is despite the government announcing plans to welcome more than 10,000 people to large venues from April, as part of tests for mass gatherings during the summer.

Over 570 students have signed a petition at York calling for the decision to be reconsidered, highlighting that many “have already missed out on two terms of face to face teaching in their final year”.

Psychology student Izzy Nash, who started the petition, told LBC: "After the government announcement came out we were hoping we would hear something from the university, just saying that they might at least consider it."

Read more: Universities say all students could return to in-person teaching after Easter

Explained: Roadmap out of lockdown: Key dates for lockdown lifting in the UK

Izzy Nash, a student from York, told LBC she wants the university "to at least consider" in-person ceremonies this summer.
Izzy Nash, a student from York, told LBC she wants the university "to at least consider" in-person ceremonies this summer. Picture: Izzy Nash

“We then started hearing about festivals that were going ahead,” the 21-year-old said, adding: “We would just appreciate them to at least say they would consider it.”

"The majority of people would prefer at least a chance than nothing at all."

In an email shared with LBC, York staff said they felt it “would not be responsible” to bring people together for graduation “when the trajectory of the pandemic is still so uncertain”.

However, History and Economics student Barney Andrews, said he felt "it unlikely that the university has explored every alternative to an online graduation given that Reading and Leeds festivals are planning to go ahead in August”.

Read more: University students to have access to £50m Covid-19 government hardship fund

There is also frustration amongst students at UCL, where almost all teaching has been fully online this year.

Amelie Bauer told LBC: “I think to a lot of students and to me personally, it felt like a premature decision that simply didn’t have to be taken at the time at which it was.

“Naturally, everyone understands the need to ensure that events go ahead safely but given that current government guidelines do not rule out larger scale events in the summer, it feels like we were deprived of an opportunity before it was clear that this would be necessary.”

The law student added it was “both demotivating and disappointing” to feel that “more efforts were not made to have guideline-compliant ceremonies or at least to assess the situation closer to the date”.

Many students graduating this year have had around half of their university course affected by Covid-19.
Many students graduating this year have had around half of their university course affected by Covid-19. Picture: PA

In Scotland, the situation is further complicated by the lack of dates in Nicola Sturgeon’s lockdown roadmap for when to expect a return to near normal.

Almost 1,000 people signed a petition to Edinburgh University after they told students all in-person graduations in summer and winter 2021 would be cancelled.

The university subsequently assured students they would be invited to attend an in-person ceremony in the future, but reiterated there was no chance of this happening this summer.

Read more: Scotland lockdown eases with four people allowed to meet outdoors from Friday

22-year-old Jack Manners, who started the petition with his flatmate Ben Henderson, told LBC they were “very happy” the university was now promising some type of in-person graduation, but “are still looking for assurances that it does happen”.

But he conceded: "We obviously can't expect the university to move before the government allows them to.”

Masters student Nausherwan Aziz, who expects to graduate in November, said he felt there was no reason not to confirm this would go ahead “considering the UK is planning on hosting a large football tournament combined with the removal of restrictions by late June”.

Edinburgh students Jack and Ben setup a petition after being told all in-person graduations would be cancelled for 2021.
Edinburgh students Jack and Ben setup a petition after being told all in-person graduations would be cancelled for 2021. Picture: Brodie McMaster

However, not all universities are planning to cancel their ceremonies. In February, Professor Adam Tickell, vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex, said they hoped to have “small school-based or subject-based graduations” if Boris Johnson’s target for removing almost all restrictions by 21 June is met.

A University of York spokesperson said: “The uncertainty around summer restrictions, and the need for families to be able to plan their travel to York or the UK at a time when travel restrictions may still be in place, meant that an online graduation ceremony was the most responsible way of keeping our students, staff, and visitors safe.

"We are disappointed that we can't celebrate with our students in the usual way, but we are looking forward to a series of celebratory events in 2022."

Edinburgh University did not wish to comment. Their website says uncertainty around the rules means "it is not feasible to plan multiple events for such large numbers of graduands and their supporters".

LBC has contacted UCL for comment. On their site the university says "the course of the pandemic remains difficult to predict and it is not clear when government guidance will allow us to hold in-person events again, or if we will be living with social distancing measures later in the year."