‘Mass exodus’ of students expected ahead of lockdown, despite ministers’ pleas to remain at university

Signs on a window at Manchester Metropolitan University's Birley campus where hundreds of students were told to self-isolate
Signs on a window at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Birley campus where hundreds of students were told to self-isolate

The “mass exodus” of university students is expected ahead of lockdown, despite pleas from ministers to remain on campus.

Students want to spend the next month where they feel “safest and most comfortable” and will travel home to be with their families irrespective of the Government’s advice, according to the National Union of Students (NUS).

It comes after universities minister Michelle Donelan urged students to remain in their university accommodation before and during this month’s lockdown in order to save the lives of loved ones.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, vice president for higher education at the NUS, said: “Students being expected to stay in term-time accommodation for lockdown while everyone else is allowed to continue moving house is not only grossly unfair, it’s fanciful as in reality students will want to spend lockdown where they feel safest and most comfortable.

“Regardless of what universities say, it feels as if there’s a mass exodus from campuses across the country at the moment.”

Guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) has told students not to travel home before Thursday so that they can “benefit from face-to-face teaching” and prevent the risk of spreading coronavirus.

It advises that in-person lessons should continue where it can be done safely, and libraries on campuses should remain open during the lockdown.

But the NUS and the University and College Union (UCU) have issued a joint demand for all university teaching to move online as much as possible to reduce the risk on the health and safety of the country.

Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, said: “Some universities have already moved the vast majority of their teaching online since the national lockdown was announced; instead of issuing contradictory advice we now need ministers to step in and tell the rest to follow suit.”

The higher education watchdog the Office for Students (OfS) has written to universities and colleges to ensure they keep students informed on any plans to change how their courses will be taught. Some universities are not communicating clearly enough with their students, the regulator has said.

The OfS letter to universities says they must explain to students when and why they may choose to move more of their teaching online, and when they may return some aspects to face-to-face delivery.

Susan Lapworth, director of regulation at the OfS, said: “As universities make changes in response to the developing situation, it is important that they continue to provide suitable academic support to all students and that the quality of education – including online teaching – remains high.”

She added: “We will continue to monitor the situation closely and engage directly with providers to ensure they are delivering good quality teaching for all students.”

It comes as a survey from the Wonkhe website suggests that 26% of students are not satisfied with their academic experience this term. The poll, of more than 7,000 students at 121 institutions, suggests that nearly 13% of students are considering leaving their course.

A Government spokesperson said: “We are prioritising students’ education and wellbeing by keeping universities open.

“The Government has updated its guidance setting out that students should stay in their current accommodation. “Universities should work with their local health teams to agree the balance of online a

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