Who’s not wearing a mask indoors?

As my mind wandered off during Keir Starmer’s speech to Labour Conference, my attention drifted to the question of whether anyone in the hall was wearing a mask.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

About one in ten I’d say.

Meanwhile on campus it’s a similar story. Most people I speak to say that their university is only recommending mask wearing, that hardly any students are doing so, and that proportion is dwindling.

That makes sense by the way – at this time of year the most important thing to do is to fit in. So if something like this isn’t mandated and enforced early, you get what you get.

What’s gone wrong here? Well as we pointed out when it was published, the appearance of these two paragraphs right next to each other in DfE’s higher education guidance is a problem:

Obviously, UCU disagrees with Para 1, which is likely only there because it’s in the schools guidance. To the extent to which it makes sense for schools, it makes much less sense for universities because Para 2 applies to Para 1, but remember DfE doesn’t really understand universities.

So the position seems to be that despite the government “expecting” people will do a thing, universities don’t seem keen on creating a rule that they will do so – which seems odd because I can think of loads of “expectations” we place on the conduct of students in codes that aren’t legal requirements. Why not this one?

Where this loops us back to is that regardless of where any of us stood on the debate between freedom and safety, for most of the pandemic we could blame Boris, Nicola, Mark or Arlene. Now whenever we’re in rooms or settings with others, it’s up to someone else.

When you’re in a room with others and the issue is that your choice might harm others, it can’t just be “up to you”. That means that anyone running a university, a party, a club or society, driving a bus… can’t now just leave masks to individuals.

The point for me is that people who do decide have to be given back up to make the decision and get help with enforcing it.

It’s also a moving bus – as weeks go on attitudes will soften or harden, and you have the “need to fit in” issue referenced above too – all of which means people need a rule one way or the other, and to know how it’ll be enforced.

But just saying “we recommend” and then hoping – that leaves staff and students, who will inevitably disagree, in the lurch. I tend to think that doing so is bad. Especially when the scenario was spectacularly predictable.

One response to “Who’s not wearing a mask indoors?

  1. Jim, the problem according to my university is that they can’t force students to wear masks because there is no legislation that provides them with recourse if students refuse, particularly in light of the government stating “No student should be denied education on the grounds of whether they are, or are not, wearing a face covering.”

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