Some good news for international students (maybe) as DfE updates its Covid guidance

In some ways it’s reassuring that bits of it remain as baffling and unhelpful as ever.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

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Change #1 in the new document concerns the section on face coverings. First we are told:

Face coverings are no longer advised for students, staff and visitors either in teaching rooms or in communal areas.

Then we are told – in the next paragraph:

The government has removed the requirement to wear face coverings in law but expects and recommends that they are worn in enclosed and crowded spaces where people may come into contact with people they don’t normally meet. This includes public transport.

Does this mean that DfE thinks higher education is full of teaching rooms and communal areas that aren’t enclosed? Or crowded? (especially this year…) Or full of “new people”?

There’s a new section on clinically extremely vulnerable people (unnecessarily and unhelpfully acryonymed as “CEV” here) who are advised, as a minimum, to follow the same guidance as everyone else:

It is important that everyone adheres to this guidance, but CEV people may wish to think particularly carefully about the additional precautions they can continue to take. Further information can be found in the guidance on protecting people who are CEV from COVID-19.

Well, that’s alright then.

It goes on to remind us that social distancing measures have now ended in the workplace and it is no longer necessary for the government to instruct people to work from home, so employers should be able to explain the measures they have in place to keep CEV staff safe at work. The guidance omits to discuss the measures that universities should take to keep CEV students safe on campus, because we never seem to hold anyone to duties about student safety.

We have a new reference in the document to a separate and updated document called the “Contingency framework for education and childcare settings”, which I’d forgotten about until now and which says lots of things that don’t seem to apply to HE, and a bit that says that:

Higher education providers should continue to liaise with their DsPH. If and when

outbreaks occur, providers should work with their local HPTs to identify any additional measures to put in place.”

We also get what I think is the first public confirmation that lateral flow testing won’t be carrying on all term, but instead should happen before a student “travels back” to university, and then twice on arrival – which is all a bit much if you commute in from the other side of Fibchester.

There’s also a warning that LF testing might well be knocked on the head altogether by the end of September.

We are reminded that individuals are not required to self-isolate if they live in the same household as someone with Covid-19, or are a close contact of someone with Covid-19, and they are either fully vaccinated or they are below the age of 18 years and 6 months. Given the almost 500,000 international students knocking about in our system, it’s helpful that the guidance now says:

If students are arriving from the EU or USA and have been fully vaccinated with a USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA)/European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved vaccine, they should bring vaccine certification and follow the rules.”

…although it may be that there’s other countries whose vaccines wouldn’t tick these boxes, and we’re not really sure what happens with the single jabbed who arrive.

Also, depending on term dates we are going to have a small number of home students in halls who fall into the “didn’t have enough time to get double jabbed but are over 18.5 and are almost certainly going to spend the first month at uni isolating” trap.

On that whole “is there going to be enough hotel quarantine capacity” question, there’s news of a sort:

Students should note that the number of hotels eligible to take part in the manged hotel quarantine scheme is increasing for the new academic year. This will ensure that more rooms will be available for travellers from red-list countries. This is positive news for international students travelling from red-list countries who should experience a smooth and welcoming transition to university life in the UK.

Yes. But will there be enough?

All red-list travellers will be accommodated. However, the coming months are peak travel-season, so travellers may not always get their first choice of hotel on the day they wish to travel. HE providers should therefore encourage students to get in touch before they book their travel and consider travelling slightly later, or at a time when there is more availability. This should only result in a short delay to student arrivals in a minority of instances during periods of peak demand in August and September.

Call me a cynic but that sounds like we’re about to see a shed load of chaos to me. If the only concern is getting your “first choice” of hotel why would you need to think about moving the date unless the problem was bigger than the paragraph implies? Is the capacity that’s there in the right part of the country? Are we still charging people a small fortune for it? Etc etc

Remote learning visa concessions and visa concessions for the Graduate Route are in place until 6 April 2022. This means that students can start their course remotely with no detriment to their visa status.”

Ah! So that’s why my lectures are online!

Students undertaking practical courses, or courses with practical elements should still aim to travel to the UK in-keeping with their course requirements.”

My favourite line:

Students should always look to book their hotel room and flight simultaneously to avoid any discrepancy.

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