On Wednesday the 27th of January - the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, gave an update on the coronavirus pandemic and the government approach, which stated very clearly that schools would not be opening for the children of non-essential workers until at least the 8th March. He also identified that the current lockdown conditions would not be lifted until at least that same date, and that the lifting of restrictions would be gradual. In the best-case scenario, we will not see a return to anything less than Tier 3 until the end of the Easter break in April.
In our last meeting, we said that we would review the situation on campus when information changed. We think we have a very clear indication that in the best projection students will, have the option to, return to campus for three weeks before term two ends and that return will be subject to very strict social distancing which will prevent or limit access to the following: physical course study groups, services on campus, hospitality or catering services, competitive sport and standard leisure and sporting facilities.
We also know that there will not be a return to face to face teaching for most students and exams in this academic year will be predominantly online.
To be clear – for the majority of undergraduate students - there is just no need to be on campus for the rest of the academic year and we believe now is the time to make the decision to release those students, who wish to leave, from their accommodation contracts.
On campus students who contact us are stressed and anxious over falling into poverty and many of their families are not able to assist this year; feeling trapped in campus accommodation, unable to benefit from any campus experience, unable to interact socially with others. Isolated, alone and undervalued.
The current rent freeze agreed two weeks ago is appreciated but does not help those that returned or never left before Christmas, that now see no value being on campus and feel extorted.
One of the key arguments being used today for not enabling students to leave license agreements is that it breaks lockdown restrictions. Our understanding is that the Government’s guidance
) asks students to “remain where they are wherever possible, and start their term online, as facilitated by their university or college.”
The guidance also states that “If you live at university, you should not move back and forward between your permanent home and student home during term time”. Our argument is that paying for accommodation that is unnecessary for students makes it impossible for them to remain where they are, and a permanent move back home will be just that - a permanent move, not back and forward. The Government guidance also makes it clear that people can move home during the lockdown period and provides guidance on how to do that safely. We appreciate that a large exodus of students would need to be effectively managed, but whilst that is challenging - it should not be a prohibitive factor.