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The Government announcement this week that a “return to in-person teaching [will be] alongside step 3 of the road map, when restrictions on social contact will be eased further and the majority of indoor settings can reopen” means that university settings (seminar rooms, lecture theatres, specialist activity spaces) have been lumped together with pubs and restaurants and are set to reopen on 17 May. Further Education colleges and their seminar rooms, lecture theatres, and specialist activity spaces have been open since 8 March and have been operating safely – so why not universities? 

It can only be because the Government assumes that the reopening of campuses would see a mass migration of students back to their University town, which we know wouldn’t be the case. It’s exam term. Exams are online. If you’re set up and comfortable at home, why would you travel to a tiny room in London – especially if that involves international flights, quarantine and expensive tests? The guidance already allows students who can’t study from home (such as those with inadequate study space and/or mental health and wellbeing issues) to travel back to their campus. So, why is indoor in-person activity off the table? We just want to make life a little better for the thousands of students still in London, isolated and alone, often living in a single tiny space. We want to give those students the opportunity to take part in safe in-person, indoor activity.

Under the current rules, 33 people are able to exercise in our Gym at any one time, but our Dance Club can’t have 10 people rehearse in a dance studio. The Dance Club has to wait until it’s safe to eat inside a restaurant before they can do any form of indoor activity. There are hundreds of equivalent examples and the new guidance just ignores this extremely valuable social and extra-curricular activity under a blanket ‘nothing indoor and in-person until 17 May’ rule.

Yet again students have been deprioritised and ignored. We can’t understand how the Government can prioritise getting 2,000 fans into Wembley for the Carabao Cup Final, but can’t find the time to work out how to get 12 people into a seminar room safely. We’re at the back of the queue, an afterthought, and we have to get people talking about this. The struggle of students this year has to become a national talking point if we’re to see any change in Government policy. The effects of the pandemic will be with us for many years, and we need Government to wake up and address the needs of students. We’ve made recommendations based on research, let’s keep it on the agenda.

Here’s our latest communication with Universities Minister Michelle Donelan. We’ll let you know as soon as there is a response.

Alongside our continued work with UCL and meetings with ministers and politicians - we’re joining students’ unions across the UK for a digital day of action on 29 April. Under the Students United Against Fees (SUAF) banner, we’ll be doing as much as possible to get the experience of students this year on to the national agenda. The whole country needs to start talking about the scandal of higher education this year. We’ll be sharing the different ways you can join in through our social media and newsletters over the next few weeks. Get involved and get people talking about the worst year for students in a generation.