University

All Bar Three Top U.K. Universities Refusing to Return to Full In-Person Teaching This Term

Only three of the top 27 U.K. universities have decided to stop bending to fear (or, perhaps, financial pressure) and to focus instead on proper education by returning to full in-person teaching this term. The other 24 say they have opted for a ‘blended’ approach which will include students ‘attending’ lectures online. The Times has the story.

The universities of Sheffield, Sussex and Southampton expect to return to in-person studies, with students expected to be on campus from the beginning of the academic year. …

The University of Sheffield has told students that they are “expected to attend in person, on campus, from the start date of your studies”, while Southampton said it would conduct all teaching “in-person and on campus”.

Sussex is planning for large lectures to go ahead in person, with alternatives available to students who cannot come to campus because of travel restrictions. The majority, including Oxford and Cambridge, will hold smaller group sessions such as seminars in person but larger lectures will remain online. …

Students overwhelmingly believe that the move online has affected their education, according to the latest monthly survey by the Office for National Statistics, conducted in June.

More than 60% of students who were in higher education before the pandemic said the lack of face-to-face learning had a major or moderate impact on the quality of their course. …

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, the Vice-President for Higher Education at the National Union of Students, said she was concerned that some universities could be using online learning as a way to cut the costs of running lectures.

“Nothing can replace the ability to socialise with and learn from your peers, or to engage with face-to-face, interactive teaching and learning and to have a full campus life,” she said.

Some universities are keeping lectures online so they can continue to increase their intake of students, particularly those from overseas, a source at a sector think tank said. “If you don’t have to worry about accommodating people or about the size of lecture theatres, how big can they get before it’s an outrage? You’re not even paying for the cinema at this point, you’re paying for Netflix,” the source said.

A record number of U.K. candidates secured a place at university this year, with 448,080 students expecting to start degree courses from next week, up from 441,720 last year.

Worth reading in full.

Students Need Help Addressing “Socialisation Issues” Following More Than a Year of Lockdowns, Says University Official

Having been cooped up in their bedrooms for much of the past 18 months, teenagers who are about to begin university need help addressing “socialisation issues”, according to an English university official. Universities will also have to give catch-up sessions to help make up for the amount of learning lost during school closures. The i has the story.

Last month, the London School of Economics and the University of Exeter estimated that pupils lost nearly a third of their learning time between March 2020 and April 2021 because of school closures and coronavirus disruption.  

With many schools unable to complete the full A-level curriculum, students were only assessed this summer on the topics they had covered. 

To make sure students will be able to complete their undergraduate courses, universities are therefore having to step in to bridge the learning gaps. 

The elite Russell Group of universities has teamed up with the Open University to launch ‘Jumpstart University’ – a free resource designed to help students settle into university. 

The platform – which is open to students in all universities – has subject-specific courses, and modules on study skills, student life, wellbeing and mental health. …

An official working for a university in the South of England told i that they were expecting to deliver “remedial work with a lot of students”.

“They cannot help but have had some of their intellectual and other development hindered by being at home for two years at such a critical part of their education. 

“We certainly noticed at the start of last year, some students had problems typical entrants didn’t have.” 

With the 2021 cohort experiencing disruption over two school years, catch-up would have to be provided “across the whole year” to make up for the amount of learning lost, they said. 

The source said universities would have to address “socialisation issues” as well as academic study. “If you’re locked away from age 16 to 18… if we’re back to normal by October, you’ve gone from a period of being locked down for almost two years, to something like as much freedom as you’re ever likely to get.” …

With student unions planning traditional freshers’ week activities for the first time since 2019, there are also concerns some students may over-indulge after two school years in which socialising was strictly limited.

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.

Covid Vaccine Hesitancy Rates Among Young Brits Continue to Fall, According to ONS Data

The percentage of young Brits aged 18 to 21 hesitant about getting vaccinated fell to 5% just before ‘Freedom Day’, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), no doubt at least in part due to constant pressuring from the Government and universities. Sky News has the story.

The ONS survey looked at attitudes during the period from June 23rd to July 18th – a day before most Covid restrictions were lifted in England.

For 16 and 17 year-olds – who are now able to get a jab following last week’s announcement to extend the roll-out to that age group – hesitancy has decreased from 14% to 11%.

Among those aged 18 to 21, hesitancy around jabs went down to 5% from 9%, and dropped slightly for 22 to 25 year-olds from 10% to 9%. …

For the ONS survey, vaccine hesitancy refers to adults who have chosen not to be vaccinated, report being very or fairly unlikely to have a vaccine if offered, responded “neither likely nor unlikely”, “don’t know” or “prefer not to say” when asked how likely they would be to get a jab if offered.

The ONS data involved 15,433 people aged 16 and above in England, Scotland and Wales.

Overall, more than nine in 10 adults (96%) reported positive sentiment towards coronavirus vaccines while 4% reported hesitancy – figures unchanged from the previous findings which covered May 26th to June 20th.

The rate of vaccine hesitancy has fallen in most areas of the U.K., the ONS said.

Worth reading in full.

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.

University Attempts to Lure Young Into Getting ‘Jabbed’ With £5,000 Prize

The tactics being employed to persuade young Brits to get vaccinated against Covid are being ramped up, much to the joy of – and, at times, thanks to the work of – the Government. The latest effort comes from the University of Sussex, which is offering fully vaccinated students the chance to win a £5,000 prize. BBC News has the story.

All students are being entered into the draw, with 10 winners able to claim a £5,000 prize each, if they can prove they are double-jabbed or exempt. …

Professor Adam Tickell, the Vice-Chancellor at Sussex, said the prize raffle was worth it if the numbers being vaccinated could be boosted even slightly.

“We know take-up among young people is patchy,” he said. “We know they’re not against the vaccine, they’re just not getting round to it.”

He added the financial cost to the university of the scheme was small compared to the human and social cost of potential disruption to students. 

“We know transmission rates are lower with vaccination, and the risk of serious illness for our staff and students is much lower in people who’ve been vaccinated.”

Vaccination remains voluntary for students, and there has been growing concern about the relatively low take-up by young adults. …

The university says its scheme is designed to provide an incentive for students to have both doses. …

Professor Tickell got the idea after hearing on a BBC programme that universities in the U.S. were offering incentives for vaccination. …

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: “Vaccines are the surest way to put Covid behind us and for students to reclaim the freedoms that enrich university life. 

“The department is encouraging universities to look at creative ways to boost uptake, and to discuss the possibility of pop-up centres with local health partners – making it quick and easy for students to grab a jab.” 

Worth reading in full.

Plans to Bar Unvaccinated University Students From Lectures and Halls Shelved

Earlier this week, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told university students they would have to wait until September to find out whether they would be required to show proof of vaccination to attend lectures and to live in halls. But the plans, which have received heavy criticism from the University and College Union (UCU) and the National Union of Students (NUS), have now been shelved, according to reports. BBC News has the story.

The idea of making 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.

And asked whether vaccination would be mandatory for students returning to halls of residence, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said a decision would be taken in September. 

“We will certainly make sure university students have advance warning, of course we’re going to be mindful of this,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday.

But now the idea of requiring students in England to show proof of vaccination to attend lectures or stay in halls of residence has been shelved, the BBC has been told.

The Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are in charge of their own coronavirus rules and education policy. 

Unions have been critical of making vaccines mandatory for university students. 

The UCU previously said this would be wrong and “hugely discriminatory against those who are unable to be vaccinated” as well as for international students. 

And the NUS had called the idea “appalling”, accusing the Government of “lining students up as scapegoats”. …

From the end of September, ministers have said people will need proof of full vaccination to attend nightclubs and other crowded venues in England. 

The full details of the plan are yet to be seen but an NHS Covid Pass – which you can obtain electronically or as a letter – will be used as proof.

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.

Minister Confirms Government Not Ruling Out Barring University Students From Lectures and Halls

The Prime Minister is “raging” about the lower Covid vaccine uptake among young people, and is considering barring university students who don’t get ‘jabbed’ (or who only receive one dose) from attending lectures and living in halls of residence as punishment.

As the number of places unvaccinated Brits could be refused entry to later this year continues to grow, Education Minister Vicky Ford has refused to rule out plans to segregate students based on their vaccination status, after first appearing to deny them. Sky News has the story.

“We aren’t ruling it out,” a senior Government source told Sky News about the prospect of mandating Covid vaccination passports for universities.

According to a report in the Times, Boris Johnson is said to be “pushing” the idea. …

But asked by Kay Burley on Sky News if students would need to be fully vaccinated to enjoy a normal university experience, Education Minister Vicky Ford replied: “No. We must make sure we continue to prioritise education.”

Ms Ford did say that having two jabs would “minimise disruption” for students as they would then not have to isolate if they are identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for the virus.

But the minister later appeared to contradict herself, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that ministers will “look at every practicality to make sure that we can get students back safely and make sure that we can continue to prioritise education”.

And she told Times Radio: “We don’t want to go back to a situation where large parts of education were closed to many young people and children, and a key part of doing that is having that double-vaccinated population.

“So I think we need to continue to encourage our young people to step forward, have the vaccination, and that is the way that they can have that freedom and confidence that they’ll be able to have that full university life.”

Speaking in the Commons last week, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said vaccine passports could be introduced for sporting and business events, music venues and festivals in addition to nightclubs.

But he told MPs that individuals will not have to prove their Covid status – full vaccination, a recent negative test or evidence of natural immunity after recovering from the virus – to access schools and universities. [He did, however, also previously ‘rule out’ the introduction of vaccine passports altogether.] …

A minister also did not explicitly rule out the prospect of the Government requiring vaccine passports for people to go to pubs when quizzed by Sky News.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Contradictory reports from Paul Waugh – saying Vicky Ford refused to rule out vaccine checks at universities – and from a Sky News correspondent – saying she did rule them out – highlight the confusion on the matter.

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.