University students: behave responsibly or face disciplinary measures

A health minister has enjoined university students to behave in the bedroom this term as a crucial part of the effort to combat further outbreaks of COVID-19.

Health and social care minister Lord Bethel said that the government was “deeply concerned” about the transmission rates of the coronavirus among university students, especially during their socialising activities on campus.

His comments come as hundreds of thousands of students ready themselves for returning to (or beginning) their university studies on campus as the beginning of the new academic year nears.

Commending university leaders for their efforts to ensure that campuses were as safe as possible through carefully designed social distancing policies in lecture theatres and classes, Lord Bethel emphasised that students will also be expected to be responsible and help block the transmission of the virus when they socialise in pubs and clubs – and in each other’s bedrooms.

Speaking to the House of Lords, he said that ministers remained deeply concerned about the virus’s transmission rates among students and conceded that some of the spread will occur in universities.

After paying tribute to the work of university vice-chancellors in arranging COVID-safe social distancing practices in their campuses, he continued: “However, some of the effect is in their social life – in pubs, clubs and bedrooms up and down the country.

“That is the responsibility of the students themselves, and we are looking at measures to enhance and enforce the social distancing measures that will stop the spread of this disease.”

Late on Wednesday, the Department for Education (DfE) released its coronavirus-containment guidance for higher education establishments.

The proposals include planning a tiered response to outbreaks of the virus, which Universities UK has organised into a four-stage strategy:

– Tier One (the default stage): a blend of in-person tuition and online lessons.

– Tier Two (initial tightening stage): more online lessons and limiting in-person tuition to where it is strictly necessary, such as in clinical or practical learning and research.

– Tier Three (firmer control stage): in-person tuition is strictly limited to priority studies such as medicine, with students advised not to return to their families.

– Tier Four (lockdown): university buildings return to closing their doors for all apart from key workers and those involved in essential research.

The DfE guidance proposes that orchestra and cast sizes in drama productions should be scaled back to restrict larger gatherings.

Universities are also asked to support students in socialising safely in “Covid-secure environments” and to help them find low-risk social activities to engage in.

The DfE guidance recommends incentivising student compliance with safety measures but also suggests recourse to disciplinary measures for students who flout their college’s safety policies.

Universities UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis said that universities had, at a minimum, carefully adhered to official government and public health guidance.

The latest DfE update on Wednesday, he said, “provides a framework for universities to operate in a way that meets the needs and circumstances of their communities”.

He added: “Life across society will be different this autumn, with university life no exception, with differences to previous years.

“However, students can look forward to a high-quality, rewarding and enjoyable experience.”

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