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The government has refused to guarantee that university students would be able to return home for Christmas after Labour said they must be allowed to return to their families over the festive period.
Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, told Sky on Sunday: “I very much want students to be able to go home at Christmas, and if we all pull together and observe these new rules, we follow the guidance, then we will be able to get to a point where that should be possible.”
Thousands of students are confined to their rooms after a surge in cases at universities including Glasgow, Manchester Metropolitan and Edinburgh Napier. The government’s scientific adviser, Sir Mark Walport, said they may have to stay on campus over Christmas to stop spreading the virus to older relatives.
The shadow education secretary, Kate Green, has written to her opposite number Gavin Williamson, urging him to “promise” students that such restrictions will not be imposed. She said it would be “deeply unfair to see students forced to remain in their student accommodation” and asked Mr Williamson to “work with universities to ensure every student has access to testing to allow a safe journey home” for Christmas.
Earlier, Green also asked Williamson to consider a delay to the start of term or a “pause in migration” for universities where term has not yet begun to allow improvements in testing capacity and remote-learning provisions.
In a statement, she said: “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.
“It is unthinkable that students will be locked in their rooms and unable to return home to spend Christmas with their families. The government must promise that this will not happen, and work with universities to enable every student to access tests so that they can travel home safely.
“Gavin Williamson must urgently come to parliament and set out how he will resolve the critical situation in our universities that is causing such anxiety for families across the country.”
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.”
Glasgow University said on Saturday that it will refund all students in halls of residence one month’s rent, along with a £50 payment for food, after the outbreak of cases.
Meanwhile, bosses at Manchester Metropolitan University have told hundreds of self-isolating students that a lockdown is “necessary” to prevent the spread of Covid-19 to other students, staff and the local community.
Students described being scared and confused as their accommodation was locked down on Friday, as up to 1,700 were told to stay in their rooms at the Birley campus and Cambridge Halls for 14 days after 127 tested positive for coronavirus.
Some at the Birley campus described confusion as security staff arrived to enforce the lockdown before many of them had received any official communication from the university, leaving them wondering how they would stock their shelves as they were not allowed to go out to buy food.
Megan Tingey, a 19-year-old criminology student, said police turned up outside her accommodation. “It was quite scary and confusing,” she said. “A police van turned up and there were police outside the gate, quite a lot of them just walking around looking at everyone, especially because we didn’t know what was going on.
“No one’s really told us much and then the police turn up as well with security outside – it’s a really, really difficult situation.”
For those in her flat, she said, it was particularly tough as they were only just emerging from isolation having themselves tested positive for the virus about 10 days ago.
She said: “I think pretty much everyone in our accommodation finished their self-isolation around yesterday, so I think doing a lockdown of the building now is quite bad considering we’ve all just come out of it.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Minister refuses to guarantee students will be home for Christmas | Students