11 Nov COVID-19: University students react as government announces ‘travel window’ and mass testing | UK News
University students in England will be able to travel home for Christmas from early December under new government guidance.
The Department for Education has said universities in England should revert to online teaching to allow students to travel home between 3 and 9 December for the festive period.
Universities will be expected to stagger the dates in which students leave during this “travel window” and liaise with other nearby institutions to ensure transport is not overwhelmed.
This guidance hopes to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission as students will be travelling home after the lockdown.
The government has also promised to help universities establish mass testing capacity as well as testing as many students as possible before they return home.
Sky News spoke to university students across the country about this new guidance.
‘These travel corridors are superficial and merely a PR stunt’
Muraad Chaudhry is a third-year international relations student at SOAS, University of London.
He welcomes the idea – but only in principle.
“The announcement of university travel corridors for many will provide a sense of certainty and opportunity to see their families over the Christmas period,” he told Sky News.
“However, in reality, these travel corridors are superficial and are merely a PR stunt which will make very little to no difference to the spread of the virus in university settings.
“This is due to students mixing in halls of residence regardless of online or in-person teaching methods used.
“Furthermore, the effectiveness of this scheme is dependent on a testing programme.
Muraad added: “However, government ministers have stated that coronavirus tests will be offered to as many students as possible, not all.
‘It’s just not acceptable to politicise when we can go home’
James Taylor, a student at the University of Gloucestershire, was not happy about being given a set period to return home.
“It’s just not acceptable to politicise when we can go home, the government aren’t the ones paying £9,250 a year,” he said.
“I live in a shared house and people think the same thing, we’re paying for something that we can’t even control, what are we paying for?”
He also questioned the logic behind the plan, saying that “everyone leaving at once is going to be mayhem”.
He added that due to “the evacuation plans” he will struggle to get home within the government’s time frame because it has “ruined my travel plans as I live overseas in Jersey“.
‘It could have been a lot worse’
Jasmine Jones, a third-year natural sciences student, had planned to stay at university beyond the travel window to complete work.
She told Sky News: “It’s kind of annoying, but I don’t really mind it too much. I’m going to do whatever I can to get home because I don’t want to be stuck here over Christmas.
“Post-Christmas is something that scares me more, and not being able to come back.”
She said her university has “gone over and beyond” government guidance and people have been “quite sensible and managed fairly well”.
She added: “I don’t think the online teaching has got to me that much, the social side is more difficult.
“I’m quite a positive person so I’m kind of viewing it as it could have been a lot worse. I could have been stuck in quarantine, I could have got coronavirus, but I’m okay.”
What about other religious festivals?
Isha Purba, a 20-year-old international development with economics student at University of East Anglia, has “mixed” feelings about these new plans.
“Christmas is such a wholesome time of year so being able to go home and spend it with family will be great,” she told Sky News.
“However, my university does not finish lectures until the 18th of December.”
She said: “Although this does not affect me directly as I have online classes, some of my friends who have to go into university, due to their course, will miss the window to go home.
“This will mean that they will be away from their families and alone for Christmas, through no fault of their own.”
She added: “I find it unfair that provisions are being made for Christmas but there were none made for Vaisakhi, Diwali or Eid.
“These celebrations are just as much about spending time with family as Christmas but they were overlooked.
“I appreciate the work that is being done to make sure that students are able to go home for the Christmas break but nothing much else is done for the rest of us.”
‘It’s all been very secretive’
Katie D’Souza, an international development student at the University of Sussex, feels that student needs have been sidelined.
She said: “I feel like the government hasn’t been giving us the right information at the right time.
“It’s all been very secretive, and this announcement has been thrown at students without warning.”
She said a switch to online teaching means “you’ll miss out on content” from classes that were previously in-person.
“I don’t think they’ve considered the massive impact this has on students, they’ve thrown it out without thinking about it.”
She said while it is “in theory, a good idea”, a “slightly longer travel window would be a bit more sensible as there are hundreds of thousands of university students needing to get home”.
She normally uses public transport to get home but “wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable getting the train home on a designated day with hundreds of other people.”
‘Many are either ignoring guidelines completely or have little care for them’
Fay Price is a second-year geography student at Swansea University.
She supports the idea but is concerned some students may return home, ignore the rules and mix with multiple households.
Fay said: “I think this announcement is welcome news for students and their relatives at this point, especially those who have been struggling with mental health during the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, my experience on campus has been that many are either ignoring guidelines completely, or have little care for them, and this attitude is amplified in the student social scene.”
She added: “As my family are currently providing necessary care to vulnerable and elderly relatives, it is a worry that a combination of this attitude, and a short travel window could put relatives at greater risk over the Christmas holidays.”
‘It’s almost like we’re left in the dark’
Aiman Lokman is a 22-year-old student studying accounting and financial management at Loughborough University.
As an international student, he believes he – and others like him – have been forgotten.
Aiman said: “I do think that there’s still a major lack of support for international students like myself.
“I can’t travel home and neither can my family into the UK. I also have no family residing in the UK to visit.”
He added: “It’s almost like we’re left in the dark and are overlooked at, which is ironic seeing that we pay almost double the fees at university but are unable to travel home.”