Students

We Must Not Shut Down University Campuses Again

We’re republishing a post today by Dr. Alberto Giubilini, a Senior Research Fellow in Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, that originally appeared on the Collateral Global website alongside its latest report, which is about the impact of shutting down university campuses on students’ mental health. Among the shocking findings are that one in three students across a range of countries have reported symptoms of depression or anxiety in the last 20 months. Here is an extract:

The results in the report published this week in Collateral Global this week on the impact of pandemic restrictions on university students’ mental health – sadly – should not be too surprising. Young people were not a priority during the pandemic. It is quite telling that most countries – and most people – did not change strategies and attitudes after the initial uncertainty, as we gained more evidence about how minuscule young people’s risk is from Covid. We continued imposing population-wide restrictions, including the closures of schools and university campuses, and moving to online-only teaching, even when it became clear that these restrictions would not benefit young people. They did not need protection from Covid as much as they needed protection from the effects of policy responses on their mental health and their psycho-physical development more generally. This report emphasises once more how we failed to protect young people’s well-being from the inevitable harms of prolonged restrictions.

Public health policies are justified to the extent that they produce significant enough collective benefits without disproportionately burdening certain groups. Admittedly, in situations of uncertainty, a rigorous cost-benefit analysis is not always possible. And yet, the stricter the restrictions, the stronger the duty to rigorously gather real-time evidence on what costs they impose on different groups. Like many other pandemic measures, the extended closures of university campuses have been a massive social and public health experiment. But even experiments require constant interrogation as to whether they are working, and a measure of their success must be the continuous evaluation of whether they are creating collateral damage. It seems we didn’t want to see or give due consideration to such damage.

The prolonged closure of university campuses and the decision to move online all the teaching, socialising, and formal and informal interactions that play a central role in young people’s psycho-physical development resulted in enormous costs that we could not see on our computer screens. With the report this week, the evidence of the significant damage we caused to them becomes more apparent – for example, with the studies showing one in three students reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Worth reading in full.

The Most Educated Are the Least Likely to Get Vaccinated Against Covid, According to New U.S. Study

Barack Obama’s recent birthday bash wasn’t a high Covid risk, according to a New York Times writer, because of the “sophisticated, vaccinated” guests who attended. But is high sophistication really an indication that someone has had the vaccine? Certainly not, according to a new U.S. study which found that the most educated are the least likely to get ‘jabbed’.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh have studied well over five million survey responses and label those who “probably” or “definitely” would not get a Covid vaccine as ‘vaccine hesitant’.

As UnHerd reports, some findings are somewhat predictable, such as that counties with higher levels of support for Donald Trump in the 2020 election had higher levels of hesitancy. But others were, perhaps, less so.

More surprising is the breakdown in vaccine hesitancy by level of education. It finds that the association between hesitancy and education level follows a U-shaped curve with the highest hesitancy among those least and most educated. People [with] a master’s degree had the least hesitancy, and the highest hesitancy was among those holding a PhD.

What’s more, the paper found that in the first five months of 2021, the largest decrease in hesitancy was among the least educated – those with a high school education or less. Meanwhile, hesitancy held constant in the most educated group; by May, those with PhDs were the most hesitant group.

Not only are the most educated people most sceptical of taking the Covid vaccine, they are also the least likely the change their minds about it.

 Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh study.

The study found that the most commonly stated reason for not getting vaccinated was concern about the potential side effects, with a lack of trust in government trailing closely behind.

The UnHerd report is worth reading in full.

Find the full U.S. study here.

Universities to Continue Holding Online Lectures and Will Tell Students to Wear Face Masks and to Follow Social Distancing

Many students hoping to begin a normal university term this autumn will be disappointed to find that, while the Covid figures give cause for restrictions to be abandoned, very little will actually change from last year.

Almost all of the leading Russel Group universities have indicated that a proportion of their teaching will continue to be held online while students will still be expected to wear face masks on campuses and to continue social distancing. Not to mention the impending introduction of vaccine passports. The Sunday Times has the story.

The universities’ decision coincides with a clear fall in Covid cases. Even normally cautious scientists, such as Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London, said that lockdowns and other restrictive measures were unlikely to be needed again.

Of the leading 24 Russell Group universities, 20 said that a proportion of undergraduate teaching will continue to be held online.

Lord Baker of Dorking, the former Conservative Education Secretary, said the universities stance was “outrageous”, and that they must return to normal as a matter of urgency this autumn. “Pubs, cinemas, theatres and football matches have all opened without restrictions,” he said. “What’s different about universities?”

University College London, the London School of Economics, Imperial College, Cardiff and Leeds all said that lectures would continue to be held online.

Warwick, Nottingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh said they would offer “blended learning” – a mix of online and face-to-face teaching for classes, seminars and lectures – but were unable to guarantee how much in-person teaching students would receive. Nottingham said it hoped to restart full face-to-face teaching next year, “subject to the course of the pandemic”.

Demands that free masks and free PCR tests be handed out to students and used are being led by the Universities and Colleges Union, which is also demanding social distancing on campus and that students get double jabbed. …

Cambridge said most teaching would be in person, but that some would be online, with details to be confirmed. Oxford said it planned most learning in person “enhanced by online teaching” and said some exams would continue to be held online next year.

Students at Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool have already launched petitions calling for a full return to “normality in terms of teaching” and demanding fee refunds. At Manchester, where some of the strictest lockdowns took place, nearly 10,000 have signed. Many students are still waiting to hear details of how their degree courses are to be taught when term starts next month. …

The Department for Education said: “Education providers are able to shape their courses without restrictions on face-to-face provision.”

Worth reading in full.

Students Must Wait Until September to Find Out Whether They Need Proof of Vaccination to Go to University, Says Dominic Raab

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has admitted that the Government is “coaxing and cajoling” young Brits into getting vaccinated against Covid with plans to introduce vaccine passports at nightclubs and other “large venues”, but warned that students will have to wait for months to find out whether they need to be fully vaccinated to attend university lectures and to live in halls.

Given that Raab says “these decisions will be taken in September”, the month in which the university term starts, it is hard to see how students will have any “advance warning” of vaccine status checks, as he suggests they will. BBC News has more.

Mr Raab was asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether the Government was in favour of going further and making the vaccine pass compulsory in more settings.

“I think the key principle is in crowded places where we want to open up… whether it’s going to a football game or pop concert, we want to make sure people can do that,” he said.

And asked whether they were planning to require students in university halls to get vaccinated, Mr Raab said: “When we come to the crunch, these decisions will be taken in September. We’ve got some time to go.

“Right the way through this pandemic we’ve had to take advice and decisions based on the evidence when we see it.

“We will certainly make sure university students have advance warning, of course we’re going to be mindful of this.”

He said he had recently visited France, where they had a big surge in vaccinations after bringing in a health pass for many activities.

“It’s a little bit of coaxing and cajoling and also making clear that ultimately over September when we know we’ll see, as a result of coming out of the lockdown step four, an increase in cases, we can control that with backstop safeguard measures.”

Latest Government figures show that more than 71% of adults have now had two jabs, while 88% have had a first dose.

Young people who are within three months of turning 18 – meaning those who are soon able to go to university – and those aged 12-17 who live with people who have a suppressed immune system, can now also get a jab.

The idea to make vaccines compulsory for university students was not ruled out by either education minister Vicky Ford or Downing Street when asked about it earlier this week.

“We are still looking at the scope for vaccination certifications,” the Number 10 spokesman said on Monday.

Earlier this week, the trade union for academic staff such as lecturers, criticised the idea following news reports.

“Students should be prioritised for vaccinations, to ensure as many as possible have the opportunity to be vaccinated by September,” said the University and College Union.

“But making vaccinations compulsory as a condition to access their education is wrong and would be hugely discriminatory against those who are unable to be vaccinated, and international students.”

Worth reading in full.

Lecturers’ Union Calls for Full Vaccination of All Students by September and Continuation of Mask-Wearing on Campus

The University and College Union (UCU) remains unconvinced that it is safe for university life to return to normal and has urged the Education Secretary to see that all students are fully vaccinated by September. It is also demanding that universities continue to impose mask mandates on campus. The Guardian has the story.

The UCU has written to… Gavin Williamson, warning that the Covid chaos seen in universities last year will be repeated unless strict measures are in place to protect staff and students.

The union wants all students to be double vaccinated before the start of term in September, with jabs made available to younger students in further education once approved by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

It is also calling on universities to “provide and mandate” the wearing of high-quality face masks by both staff and students, access to free PCR tests, and funding from the Government to support education recovery.

It wants robust health and safety risk assessments ahead of the new academic year, modifications to buildings to improve ventilation, measures to allow for effective social distancing, and improved mental health provision for students. …

The UCU described the dropping of social distancing and mask-wearing in England, and the reopening of nightclubs, as “reckless” and a “recipe for disaster”.

The letter to the Education Secretary said: “Last year, ministers green-lit the mass movement of students across the country and failed to recognise the effect this would have on infections, on those working and studying in the sector, and on the wider communities of which they become a part.

“As the Westminster Government removes all restrictions and the associated public health guidance, there is a real danger that unless we learn key lessons from last year, our education settings become incubators for Covid all over again.” Letters have also been sent to the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland executive.

Covid jabs have been approved for young people up to three months before their 18th birthday, but the UCU says students should be treated as a priority group to ensure they are fully vaccinated before September, in time for the start of term. …

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We strongly encourage all students to take up the offer of both vaccine doses as soon as they become eligible. We also recommend that face coverings are worn in enclosed and crowded spaces where people may come into contact with people they do not normally meet, or in the event of a local outbreak.”

Some universities will not need any persuading. Students at the University of Oxford, for example, have been told that rules on mask-wearing and social distancing will remain unchanged, despite the passing of ‘Freedom Day’.

The Guardian report is worth reading in full.

Cancelled Job Offers Prompt Recent University Graduates to Enrol on Masters Programmes

With many work placements and internships cancelled last year due to lockdown, and a good deal of employers not bothering to get back to failed applicants, thousands of recent university graduates have rushed to study “panic masters” courses. The Observer has the story.

Universities including UCL, Cambridge and Edinburgh, told the Observer they were seeing substantial increases, ranging between 10 and 20%, in the number of U.K. students applying to study for postgraduate degrees in the autumn.

Mary Curnock Cook, an admissions expert who is chairing an independent commission on students, said the rise is due to “a collapse in confidence in the graduate employment market”. There is a backlog of applications from graduates who struggled to secure roles last year or whose placements were cancelled, she said.

“That’s what’s causing this idea of the panic master’s,” she said. “A lot of what I’m hearing is people getting stressed about making tons of applications and not even getting acknowledgement. It’s a stain on employers that they’re not treating their applicants with common courtesy.”

Curnock Cook added that while master’s degrees are usually worthwhile investments since they are favoured by many employers and result in higher average salaries, she advised against “making decisions in a rush for the wrong reasons”, particularly since loans available for postgraduate study does not cover living expenses.

Dan Barcroft, Head of Admissions at Sheffield University, said postgrad study has been especially popular among undergraduates planning to remain at the university, with application numbers rising by 35%. “People are choosing to stay in education at a time of economic turbulence,” he said. …

Last year top graduate employers cut vacancies by nearly a half, although some jobs have been reinstated this year. There are particular shortages of entry-level roles in the industries that have been worst affected by the pandemic, including travel, hospitality and retail.

recent survey of more than 2,000 students by advice service Prospects showed that over a third of university finalists are changing their career plans due to the pandemic, while two-thirds who are planning postgraduate study are choosing to do so to switch career path.

Nearly half of university students said they felt unprepared for the job market, citing a lack of experience, vacancies and their skills as the main barriers. 

Worth reading in full.

University Students Demand Reduction in Tuition Fees Due to Loss of Learning During Lockdowns

A group of 17 university students’ unions have called for a 30% reduction in their tuition fees (worth £2,700) to compensate for the loss of education caused by the Government’s lockdowns. They are willing to accept higher interest rates on their loans in exchange for this discount. The Guardian has the story.

[The group,] led by the London School of Economics and the University of Sheffield, [has] written to the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, and the Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, to propose that the Government funds a 30% tuition fee rebate for all students this year by increasing interest rates by 3% to 6.2%, meaning it would be repaid only by the highest earning graduates.

The letter stated: “We are asking for immediate financial justice for Covid-affected cohorts of university students. In an ideal world, education should be free; however, in a year when students are calling for compensation on their fees, we have created a fiscally neutral solution to adjust tuition fees, supporting students with a one-off payment.”

The student leaders, who are all from research universities in the Russell Group, based their calculations on modelling from the London Economics consultancy. It suggested that increasing the interest rate on student loans would mean that the £1 billion cost of the 30% rebate would be paid for by high-earning graduates, because loans are written off after 30 years, rather than the taxpayer or graduates on low incomes.

The average male graduate would pay £6,500 more in loan repayments over their lifetime, with the very highest earners paying up to £29,800 more, but female graduates on average salaries could repay the same amount because their lifetime earnings are lower.

The pandemic meant most students were barred from their campuses from the end of the autumn term until May 17th, so they missed out on in-person teaching, access to facilities such as libraries, and social and extracurricular activities. Many were frustrated to find themselves unable to access rooms in halls of residence and flats they had already paid for…

Some students have voiced their anger with universities this year through rent strikes, building occupations and socially-distanced protests…

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Universities have a strong track record in delivering excellent blended tuition, and we have been clear from the start of the pandemic that the quality and quantity should not drop.

“The Office for Students will be monitoring to ensure this is the case, and universities should be open about what students can expect.”

Another letter sent by a group of 19 students’ unions told the competitions watchdog in April that students have been “mis-sold” degrees. They demanded tuition fee refunds. Prior to this, the Government responded to a petition asking for a reduction in fees saying: “[We are] not considering a reduction in maximum fee levels to £3,000.”

The Guardian report is worth reading in full.

American Universities Order Students to Take Covid Vaccine before Returning to Classes

A number of American universities have announced that they will require their staff and students to be vaccinated against Covid before being permitted to return to campuses this autumn. MailOnline has the story.

Several state university systems will require all students returning to classes and campuses this fall to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

A number of state and public institutions have made the announcement in the past week as they hope to get back to normal campus life after months of online learning.

Similar measures have been announced by some private institutions, but with the policy of requiring Covid vaccinations expanding into state and public school systems, the number of universities with the requirement has risen significantly.

Some private universities – including Brown, Cornell and Stanford – have announced similar requirements, and will be joined by California’s two state university systems, as well as several universities in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and New Jersey.

Thursday’s joint announcement from the 10-campus University of California and the 23-campus California State University represented the largest of its kind in American higher education…

Including private universities, at least 80 have announced their intention to make vaccines mandatory to their students in order for them to return to campus, according to a count by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

But others have said outright that they will not require their students to be vaccinated. Republican Governors in Utah, Texas, Florida and Montana have signed orders banning institutions from requiring vaccines. 

According to Forbes, it is currently unclear how state executive orders banning Covid vaccine passports – such as that recently signed in Texas – will affect universities wishing to force their students to get vaccinated. Should the bans on unvaccinated students go ahead, it is expected that some exemptions “based on sincerely held religious views and medical conditions” will apply. Forbes has published a list of institutions that have said they will require staff and students to be vaccinated before they reopen.

MailOnline‘s report is worth reading in full.

Durham University Introduces Covid Status Certificates

A reader has been in touch to tell us that a Covid certification scheme has been introduced at Durham University, where her son is a first-year student. As she asks, is this even legal?

Elder son, First Year student at Durham University, returned on Sunday for summer term. He has been told he needs to do two lateral flow tests per week and must have a negative email confirmation on his phone in order to do “any university activity”. This means that if he wants to participate in the life of the university, as opposed to stay cooped up in his tiny dorm room 24/7, Covid testing is mandatory.

Is this even legal?

He was also told his term has also been extended by one week, into early July, for the “wider university experience”. (Joke.) Is this so the university can broaden its new scheme to include evidence students have been vaccinated in time for when the roll out hits 18 to 30 year-olds? Presumably, the authorities at Durham don’t care that the risks of getting vaccinated outweigh the risks of not being vaccinated for people in his age group.

This academic year he will have had zero face-to-face teaching. There has been no announcement at all about the 2021/22 academic year teaching arrangements, apart from to confirm that maximum fees will be charges, as they were this year. But of course.

I cannot understand why universities, with all their fine minds, are supporting this nonsensical testing regime. Don’t the medical professors read the data on the false positive rates for lateral flow tests? To me, universities have been complicit in damaging UK further education, as well as the health of their communities.

My poor 19 year-old son is desperate to have a more “normal” life again. He could very easily be coerced into doing almost anything to achieve that and will get vaccinated if it means he can get back to university sport and some socialising. This is the second year of woeful education for him, having had his A-levels cancelled in 2020. It fills me with despair.

Students Appeal to Competition and Markets Authority Over Tuition Fees

Students’ unions have told the competitions watchdog that they have been “mis-sold” degrees as they demand blanket tuition fee refunds. Camilla Turner, the Telegraph‘s Education Correspondent, has the story.

A group of students’ unions have written to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), urging it to “take action to uphold students’ rights” over tuition fees and rent payments amid the pandemic.

The open letter, backed by student leaders at 19 universities across the UK, calls on the regulator to help students asking for blanket fee refunds as a result of COVID-19 disruption.

It urges the regulator to “explain to students how they can prove that the ‘quality’ of their course has not met the required standards for full tuition”.

The letter goes on to say: “Nobody understands what the Government means by poor quality courses, and the language seems to blame the academics delivering courses for lost education when it is the unavoidable result of the pandemic and ‘blended learning’ being mis-sold by universities.”

The student representative also asked the CMA to address the “broken” complaints process for students claiming refunds, and help advise students on their ability to withhold fee payments “if they have lost out” due to the pandemic.

The letter, which has been signed by students leaders from Oxford, Cambridge and a number of other Russell Group universities, says: “Students need an external organisation with no vested interest other than upholding students’ rights to step in and give them the power to seek collective fee justice.

The CMA must act now.” The plea came after the Department for Education (DfE) confirmed that all remaining students in England will not be allowed to return to in-person lessons on campus until mid-May at the earliest.

Most students in England, apart from those on critical courses, were told not to return to campus as part of the lockdown announced in January.

It is estimated that around half of university students in England are not eligible to return to campus for in-person teaching until May 17th at the earliest.

Worth reading in full.