Labour presses the government on students and universities

On Wednesday Labour’s Shadow Universities Minister Emma Hardy wrote to the government demanding that it urgent implements a “credible plan” to ensure that universities can reopen safely - including action on testing, digital access, and public health measures on campus.

We were previously underwhelmed by Labour’s “7 Key Tests for Higher Education”, but this new intervention is thoughtful and purposefully demanding, navigating carefully between demands to reopen campuses with calls for safety and support for students.

Jumping into the slipstream of a PMQs row between Keir Starmer and the Prime Minister on testing capacity, here Hardy is keen to know the steps that DfE has taken to ensure that students are able to get tested when they return to university – raising questions both about sufficient testing capacity in communities, and the need for additional testing to support university staff and students. She also calls for a programme of mass testing to include those who do not have symptoms.

On the digital divide, Hardy presses Michelle Donelan on steps DfE has taken to ensure that students have sufficient digital access. “To push this issue on to individual universities or students would be a dereliction of duty”, she argues.

Hardy also raises the absence of student and staff voices from the government’s campus reopening taskforce, the lack of guidance calling for face coverings to be worn in indoor areas on campus (now rectified in the DfE guidance) and questions expectations over student compliance with rules and disciplinary procedures.

Commenting, Emma Hardy said:

With only a matter of weeks until campuses reopen, the government must act now to ensure that universities are able to reopen safely. With the number of coronavirus cases rising, the government must get a grip before it is too late.

Universities and their staff have worked tirelessly to ensure that they can reopen safely, and now the government must do their part to reassure communities and students that there’s the infrastructure in place to support them.”

After the chaos of recent days, Minsters must ensure adequate testing capacity in university communities, ensure that everyone has the digital access they need for remote learning, and explore the introduction of mass testing for all students.”

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