GOVERNMENT URGED TO ENSURE FULL VACCINATION OF STUDENTS BEFORE SEPTEMBER RETURN TO UNIVERSITIES
Writing on Friday 23 July 2021, Sally Weale, Guardian Education Correspondent reported that the University and College Union has warned Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, that unless students are double vaccinated before the start of the new academic year and additional protective measures are also implemented, the problems seen in universities last year will be repeated. Will Hazel, Education Correspondent of iNews, also writing on Friday 23 July 2021, reported that unless students are fully vaccinated ministers have been warned that university 'chaos' could return in September.
Vaccinate all UK university students by September, says union
UCU urges government to prevent universities being ‘incubators for Covid-19 all over again’
(Sallhy Weale, The Guardian Friday 23 July 2021)
University staff are demanding the full vaccination of all students by September and compulsory face masks on campus to stop the Delta variant from ripping through universities in the new academic year.
The University and College Union (UCU) has written to the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, warning that the Covid chaos seen in universities last year will be repeated unless strict measures are in place to protect staff and students.
The union wants all students to be double vaccinated before the start of term in September, with jabs made available to younger students in further education once approved by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
It is also calling on universities to “provide and mandate” the wearing of high-quality face masks by both staff and students, access to free PCR tests, and funding from the government to support education recovery.
It wants robust health and safety risk assessments ahead of the new academic year, modifications to buildings to improve ventilation, measures to allow for effective social distancing, and improved mental health provision for students.
At the peak of the pandemic last winter, at least 45 universities reported serious Covid outbreaks, with thousands of students – many away from home for the first time – forced to isolate in halls, often sick with the virus and sometimes without enough food.
With high infection rates and Covid restrictions lifted across England this week, the union warned that universities are especially vulnerable to further outbreaks, with more than 1 million students travelling across the country to live and study away from home.
The UCU described the dropping of social distancing and mask wearing in England, and the reopening of nightclubs, as “reckless” and a “recipe for disaster”.
The letter to the education secretary said: “Last year, ministers green-lit the mass movement of students across the country and failed to recognise the effect this would have on infections, on those working and studying in the sector, and on the wider communities of which they become a part.
“As the Westminster government removes all restrictions and the associated public health guidance, there is a real danger that unless we learn key lessons from last year, our education settings become incubators for Covid-19 all over again.” Letters have also been sent to the Scottish government and the Northern Ireland executive.
Covid jabs have been approved for young people up to three months before their 18th birthday, but the UCU says students should be treated as a priority group to ensure they are fully vaccinated before September, in time for the start of term.
The UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: “Students and staff endured totally avoidable chaos in the last academic year, and rightly want to put that behind them, but at present there is a real danger that the disruption could return as cases surge and restrictions are eased across the UK.
“To protect students’ education, it is vital that governments and providers work with trade unions to ensure vital health and safety measures are in place on campus, including the provision and mandated wearing of masks. A return to the level of disruption experienced last year would be unforgivable.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We strongly encourage all students to take up the offer of both vaccine doses as soon as they become eligible. We also recommend that face coverings are worn in enclosed and crowded spaces where people may come into contact with people they do not normally meet, or in the event of a local outbreak.”
Vaccination: University ‘chaos’ could return in September unless students are jabbed, ministers warned
The University and College Union called for ‘all university students to be offered the opportunity to be fully vaccinated before the start of the academic year, as a priority group’
(Will Hazel, iNews, Friday 23 July 2021)
The chaos experienced by universities last year could be repeated this autumn if students are not fully vaccinated by September, the Government has been warned.
The University and College Union also called for staff and students to be made to wear masks next term and for campus buildings to be modified to make them Covid secure.
In a letter sent to governments across the UK, the UCU called for “all university students to be offered the opportunity to be fully vaccinated before the start of the academic year, as a priority group”.
The intervention follows data from Public Health England showing that fewer than 60 per cent of 18 to 25-year olds in England have received their first dose, despite adults over 18 being eligible for jabs since 18 June.
Uptake of the vaccine among young people appears to be levelling off, while PHE figures have also shown that the proportion of people aged 20 to 29 testing positive for Covid has hit record levels.
Last autumn campuses across the UK suffered major Covid outbreaks, forcing tens of thousands of students to self-isolate in their university halls.
Dr Jo Grady, the UCU’s general secretary, said: “To protect students’ education it is vital that governments and providers work with trade unions to ensure vital health and safety measures are in place on campus, including the provision and mandated wearing of masks.
“Before over a million students travel across the country to their places of study, governments must also make university students a priority group for vaccination, ensuring they are fully vaccinated before September. Preventing outbreaks is the first step in delivering a consistent, high-quality education for everyone.”
She added: “Our biggest concern remains in England, however, where the government has taken a reckless approach to the removal of restrictions and guidance for educations providers.
“Last year, this complacency led to huge outbreaks, caused chaos for students and burnout for staff, who worked incredibly hard to maintain standards.
“With the vast majority of universities in England, ministers in Westminster are concocting a recipe for disaster that will threaten public safety.”