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Compensation calls for students locked up in lockdowns

Despite warnings of the likelihood of further outbreaks of Coronavirus, the Government permitted universities to open their doors to new and returning students at the beginning of October.

Most students were delighted. University is an important time for many young people: moving away from home for that first taste of independence, making new friends, creating that delicate balance of study and socialising, maybe getting a part-time job to supplement the student loan.

It’s a challenging and exciting time of learning – both academic learning and learning about life. But just a few weeks into the new term many thousands of students were enduring a miserable existence rather than that dreamed of excitement.

By October, more than 90 UK universities reported outbreaks of Covid-19 leading to self-isolating and lockdown situations for students. And once locked down, students were reporting that they struggled to feed themselves, with supermarket delivery services inaccessible or limited, and in-house kitchens ill- equipped for stockpiling the food required for extended periods.

And some students further claimed that the support offered by their universities was totally inadequate, with emergency food packages on offer being overpriced or even inedible.

Student stories from almost every corner of the land – from Lancaster to Edinburgh, Durham to Sheffield, Norwich to Exeter, Manchester to Leeds, and across the Irish Sea to Belfast – have a similar ring, with reports of “shambolic” incidents of being locked down in halls. It makes uncomfortable reading, not only for university bodies but for the Government, too.

To be fair, some universities seem to have coped better than others with the crisis, but they are most certainly in the minority. And problems continue, with the unacceptable experiences not restricted to what students eat or how they live. For thousands, the learning experience itself is proving equally lamentable.

Many courses are being taught online, with little or no face-to-face contact with tutors. Frustrated students complain they are not experiencing their promised university experience, saying they might as well have stayed at home.

Some have returned home, or want to, stating that what they are getting is not worth the money they’re paying.

In this, they are supported by the National Union of Students which says students being “trapped” in university accommodation only adds to anxiety levels in already difficult times.

What our surveys show

Back in September, nationwide polling showed there was around 65% public support for the decision to allow students to return to university, but recent developments have seen that level of support plummet dramatically.

With the upsurge in campus coronavirus infections, and with many students being locked in their halls of residence, opinion has shifted, with less than half of us, 48%, now believing the original decision was correct.

Furthermore, a clear majority of 57% say that students affected by university lockdown or self- isolation should be offered reductions or even full return of their fees. Just 33% of us were against this option.

Our third survey question asked about the importance of containing the spread of the coronavirus amongst the student population. Your answers revealed a growing body of opinion that thinks taking preventative measures against students is not necessarily the correct course of action, given their relatively low level of personal risk.

Overall, exactly half of us feel that it is “not at all important” or “fairly unimportant” to restrict the spread of Covid-19 amongst university students.

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