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.

Britain’s Top Universities Chartering Planes to Fly in 1,200 Chinese Students to Claw Back £1.3billion in Overseas Fees

Top U.K. universities are chartering flights to bring Chinese students into the country next month in an effort to overcome travel restrictions. Britain’s 220,000 Chinese students account for nearly a fifth of all tuition fee income and universities are terrified of losing it. MailOnline has more.

More than 50 universities, including Imperial College London, Bristol and Exeter, have already chartered four flights, bringing in some 1,200 Chinese students, the Times reported.

Mainland China has scrapped all direct commercial flights to the U.K. but students can travel to London via Hong Kong, which is on the U.K.’s green list for travel.

More flights are now being arranged in order to meet demand, the paper reported, citing Into HE, an international education organisation assisting in hiring the flights.

Preparations include airport transfers between Heathrow and the university campuses, along with accommodation and food for the students, who currently have to isolate for 10 days upon arrival in the U.K.

The charter flights come amid fears that income from overseas students – worth more than £1billion to U.K. universities – could dip amid ongoing coronavirus travel restrictions.

There are some 220,000 Chinese students studying in the U.K., the Times reported, with students from China providing nearly a fifth of all tuition fee income. Across the prestigious Russell Group, one in every 10 students is Chinese. After China, India is the country from which most overseas students at U.K. universities hail.

The availability of flights to the U.K. has been impacted by coronavirus, particularly over concerns about the Delta variant, prompting some universities to extend online learning and introduce multiple start dates in a bid to accommodate international students struggling to get to the U.K. in time for the beginning of term.

Experts have also warned that the focus on catering to international students risks overlooking the needs of British students, who pay nearly four times less in fees than international students.

Worth reading in full.