British universities have started opening their doors and the Tories are insistent on in person teaching.
However with over 27,000 daily Covid-19 cases in the United Kingdom last week, students heading to campus are rightfully apprehensive and anxious.
Jeandre, a third year psychology student at Liverpool Hope University, feels “completely disconcerted”.
She struggled to find accommodation this year, leaving her no option but to return to university halls.
She told Socialist Worker, “I’m terrified, I fear I might get locked in my room or suffer from Covid-19.”
Last year the Tories’ forced return to campus sparked a violent wave of infections resulting in hundreds of students being locked in their halls.
The current infection level is five times higher than at the start of term last year.
Jeandre believes that the university management and the Tories allowed Covid-19 to rip through campuses last year, so they could continue charging tuition fees and rent.
She said, “I don’t feel like I had a second year.
“Now I find it hard to find momentum and support to see how I’ve progressed.”
Last year’s crisis is a warning that the government and university bosses are choosing to ignore.
As school pupils returned to classrooms last month, it resulted in 122,000 children having to take time off for Covid-19 related reasons.
Twelve percent of English school pupils reported Covid-19 symptoms weeks after infection. In some areas across England up to one in ten teachers are absent.
Despite these warnings university bosses are forcing a shift back to face to face teaching with just a few lectures remaining online.
Oli, a third year criminology student at the University of Wolverhampton, explained how masks and social distancing aren’t enforced on campus.
He told Socialist Worker, “I’m scared for the more vulnerable students. The University doesn’t seem to have enough safety measures in place.
“Education must be accessible to all, all of the time.”
To address this, Oli said, the university shouldn’t put additional pressure onto staff but should “hire more cleaning staff on good pay”.
Matthew, a first year Information Technology student at Liverpool John Moores university, is worried that Covid-19 related absences will hit his education.
He said the lack of mask wearing makes it almost “inevitable” that people will catch the virus.
He told Socialist Worker, “Some of my lessons are online, but it depends on the lecturer if that happens.
“I’ve been sick recently and missed some induction sessions. If I had Covid-19 and was told to isolate, it wouldn’t be easy to catch up.”
Starting university he’d like to see “both in person and online lectures” but believes to do this, “lecturers should get paid more”.
Unsafe campuses are causing anxiety for some workers
The Tories remain committed to a return to normal in universities but are failing to implement vital safety measures and equipment.
Former education secretary Gavin Williamson expected “all universities, unless there’s unprecedented reasons, to be moving back to the situation of actually delivering lessons, lectures face to face”.
But university workers and unions say the government is creating “widespread anxiety” amongst staff by failing to give clear advice.
The Independent Sage group of scientists published a report that said students should be required to wear masks at university. But universities have the choice to choose whether they require mask wearing or not.
Roddy is the UCU union branch secretary at Imperial College London, he told Socialist Worker that his colleagues have a range of views regarding students returning to campus.
“Some are complacent, some believe everything’s OK and others have real anxieties,” he said.
Students and university workers shouldn’t be forced to return to crowded, unsafe campuses.
Roddy believes changes need to happen to make campuses safe. “One of the big things is ventilation and CO2 monitors whilst ensuring no one is teaching in enclosed areas,” he said.
Workers and their unions shouldn’t shy away from a fight for these changes. His union branch recently passed a motion that called for flexible working.
He explained, “People should be able to travel into campus at times which are safer for them rather than sticking to the regulated time. A lot of the anxieties about returning to work is navigating very crowded public transport—especially in London.”
Roddy added, “We must make education as inclusive as possible.” And he believes students shouldn’t be forced onto campus and should be given the option to learn from home.
“That shouldn’t come at the expense of workers’ conditions” he said. “For example, recorded lectures mustn’t replace staff who have been made redundant.”
Tuition fees are not fair
Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak is attempting to charge students for the cost of the pandemic.
Currently University students start repaying their huge £9,250 yearly tuition fees once they earn £27,295. Sunak reportedly wants to reduce this to below £25,000.
David Willetts, the former universities minister, recently called on the government to lower the starting threshold for repaying student loans to annual earnings of just £21,000.
Jeandre said the pandemic has shown “how flawed and unfair tuition fees are”.
She added, “We haven’t received the same level of education as we did in person.
“I fail to see where my £9,250 is going each year and what impact it has. Lecturers are often on poor pay and are being made redundant.”
Oli said charging for education is “complete bullshit—it wasn’t worth it last year or any other year.”
He added, “The reduction to the cap is to ultimately exclude people like myself—working class people—from higher education.
“Instead of charging students and putting them into debt, they should be taxing their mates.”