All students can now “return” to campus. But what for?

All remaining university students in England will be able to return to campus from 17 May, the Prime Minister has announced at the Downing Street press conference confirming that “Step 3” relaxations will go ahead as planned.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

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I woke up in a great mood, and all day I was thinking – maybe this was going to be the time that DfE really pulled it out of the bag.

Maybe there was going to be a significant lifting of on-campus restrictions in England beyond exceptions for “teaching” despite the fact it’s long been finished for most students. Maybe we’re getting a big wedge of support for mental health and building back students’ confidence and skills development.

Maybe a big announcement on helping graduates into a viciously hostile graduate jobs market is coming. Maybe DfE will put out a press release that didn’t raise students’ and parents’ hopes of what will be possible this late on in the year.

The press release that did appear was worded as follows:

All remaining university students to return to in-person teaching from 17 May.”

It was all downhill from there really.

Line one of the text of the release said that “university students received a boost today” which as well as being a boost also turned out to be a stretch. It’s all thanks to “the launch of a new employment and skills guide” alongside the confirmation that “all remaining students can return to in-person teaching from the 17 May”.

Ah yes. Right down to this late in the academic year, DfE drops providers in it. It may as well have said “we’ve said they can, so it’s up to them if they don’t! If you feel you’ve not been getting the quality, quantity and access to tuition, you can complain to the OIA…”

It’s worth remembering that as of Monday it’s still the case that to be exempt from the indoor gatherings rules (rule of six or two households), the gathering has to be necessary for the purposes of a course of study or essential life skills training provided by a higher education provider.

All of which means that as this mass of students “return” to campus, your Environmental Sciences tutor could show you a film as part of your course, only they stopped actually teaching weeks ago. Meanwhile if the student Environmental Society wanted to show you that film in the same venue in the same way with the same risk assessment, they can’t. Because reasons.

On Monday you basically can’t do anything indoors in groups unless it’s teaching or in groups of six or less, which is why this tortured sentence from Universities UK welcoming the non-event is so carefully constructed:

This is a welcome confirmation that all students in England will now be able to return to university to take part in Covid-safe in-person teaching, learning and other activities, which the Government has recognised as essential to their mental health and wellbeing. Universities have been working hard to prepare in-person activities for returning students, including group work, graduate support and on-campus sport.”

Given that extra-curricular activity is ”valuable in forming those networks, your confidence, your other skills, as well as being part of the experience that university students expect and go to university for, as well as the academic side”, the other day at Education Committee Michelle Donelan had asked UUK to “share best practice in this area” – not just for the autumn, but for now:

That is one of the reasons why we wanted to get them back even if their courses have finished academically, to give them the opportunity to go back from 17 May.

Maybe Universities UK will be publishing a list of marquee hire companies and umbrella suppliers.

Talking of useless collections of web links, that “university students received a boost today” thing with “the launch of a new employment and skills guide” turns out to be a six-step collection of web links hosted on the Office for Students’ website:

  • Step 1: Identify skills – Identify your skills and explore what you would like to do next
  • Step 2: Develop skills – Develop your skills
  • Step 3: Gain experience – Explore your interests and develop your professional network
  • Step 4: Apply for jobs – Find out where you can go to search for jobs
  • Step 4.5: Realise that we’re in the middle of the biggest structural youth and graduate jobs crisis in decades and that instead of investing properly to cushion graduates through that crisis to avoid long term scarring effects through investment in postgraduate study or job placement schemes it’s instead asked OfS to cobble together a collection of weblinks designed to very slightly sharpen your elbows to compete a little better for the same finite and dwindling number of jobs.
  • Step 5: Wellbeing – Well, yes

There’s even a blog from Michelle Donelan on the “excitement and nervousness” she felt when she graduated, and top drawer advice like this:

Many universities and colleges have job boards where they advertise graduate vacancies including local vacancies and opportunities with small and medium-sized local employers.”

As well as all of that, there’s all the usual stuff on trying to clear the warehouses of Dom’s moonshot tests. Before remaining students return, they are encouraged to take a test either through home, community testing at least one day before they travel back to their term time accommodation, or by using the ten free tests that are now being included in boxes of Frosties.

Upon arrival at their term-time accommodation, all students and staff will be encouraged to take a hundred supervised Lateral Flow Devices (LFD) tests 3 to 4 minutes apart at an on-campus asymptomatic testing site, and will be expected to be tested two times a second throughout the rest of eternity or until the warehouses are empty.

It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.

One response to “All students can now “return” to campus. But what for?

  1. Some Universities directorates of ‘bums on seats’ jumped the gun on this and have been pushing 1m+ social distancing since April, I note the Governmental guidance still says 2m when downloaded this morning. The disconnect between the H&S professionals and the rest of the university management, how else can we describe the directorate of ‘bums on seats’ e-mails and publicly available webpages promoting 1m social distancing, is going to be a problem for years to come. With many H&S staff looking to leave due to the undermining by those who employed them to keep themselves and the VC out of court/jail.

    The pandemic isn’t over, and with the Indian VOC now present in the UK, several South coast University towns have cases many miles from headline Bolton hotspot, perhaps encouraging our students not to return without very good reason is the best we can do for them and us the staff…

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