COVID-19: NOTTINGHAM UNIVERSITY & NOTTINGHAM TRENT UNIVERSITY SAY STUDENTS TREATED UNFAIRLY
 

Ben Cooper, writing in the Nottingham Post on Wednesday 13 October 2021, reported on an interview with the registrars of Nottingham's two universities in which they said residents, public bodies, including the Council and the Police, unfairly blamed students for the spread of Covid in the city last autumn.

'They have been victimised': Universities hit back at scapegoating of students for Nottingham Covid rates

“At the time there were other parties going on. We weren’t the only game in town.”

Senior figures from both of Nottingham’s universities have said that students feel “bitter” at being unfairly blamed for spreading Covid in the city.

Speaking exclusively to Nottinghamshire Live, Dr Paul Greatrix, registrar of the University of Nottingham, and Steve Denton, chief operating officer and registrar of Nottingham Trent University, said residents of the city and public bodies including the council and the police treated students unjustly for a sudden spike in infections last autumn.

Their comments come a year after a dramatic rise in cases of Covid, which at times was most prominent in areas with high student populations including the Arboretum, University Park, Lenton Abbey and Jubilee Campus, which MP for Nottingham South Lilian Greenwood described as “deeply worrying”. 

In early-October Nottingham had the highest infection rate in the country , and gained national media attention over a number of high-profile incidents in which large house parties were broken up leading to students being fined.

At the time Alison Challenger, public health director for Nottingham, said that the “dramatic” rise in cases was seen “particularly where students live together and socialise together”.

However Mr Denton said that the problems had been caused by a “small minority” of students from each of the universities.

He said: “We’re fully aware that there were students who didn’t behave as they should do then. But I think it then became ‘all students’ and our view was that they were getting othered in a way that if you did it with any other section of the community it would be unacceptable.

“A small minority can add up to a lot of numbers. The focus has been on that small minority.

“There were people who wanted to beat students with a stick; local politicians, police and others. And that has left some residual feeling that’s not helpful.

“At the time there were other parties going on. We weren’t the only game in town.”

Dr Greatrix said: “They have been victimised. There have been plenty of people blaming students for the world’s ills and that’s just not fair.

“Actually students have been as responsible if not more responsible than many members of the community and still remain so.

Dr Greatrix also criticised the nature of the media coverage surrounding the discussion over Covid transmissions, and on social media, which he said leaves “no scope for sophisticated discussion”.

“There isn’t space for nuance,” he said. “I couldn’t say last October that students are a contributory factor. There was a crisis situation in the city.

“We were doing everything we could to ensure that those students who tested positive were isolating and were supportive.”

Mr Denton added that while the infection rates were high in Nottingham, the universities were accused of being responsible even by people in positions of high responsibility within various public services, something that has left students feeling “bitter”.

“We were in meetings with officials in which we were told that rising cases in hospitals are ‘down to your students’. That’s what we were told.

“Talk to our students and student reps. Even now they are absolutely bitter at last year’s experience. They really feel as though they got it unfairly at the time.

“There is some [bitterness] towards the police and their perception of how they behaved.”

Both Mr Denton and Dr Greatrix said that this year’s populations of new and returning students had concerns that the bad-feeling towards them felt in the city last autumn and into the spring would carry on this year.

Last month a Nottinghamshire Live survey of Nottingham Trent University students on the City Campus during freshers’ week, revealed that 94% said they had had at least one Covid jab, while just over 73% had had both.

Both universities run programmes designed to improve relationships between students and members of the communities in which they live. At the University of Nottingham this is called the Community Affairs team, while a Community Relations team works around Nottingham Trent’s various campuses.

During lockdown last autumn members of these teams went out to meet with people in houses where incidents of restrictions being broken had been reported, to speak with residents and issue warnings.

Dr Greatrix said that the initiative was a sign of how seriously the universities were taking the problems, and that should more restrictions come in, the teams will be tough on rule-breakers.

“Where there’s an issue we will act on it,” he said. “We will take action. But we need to know where these things have happened. If people don’t do that we can’t do anything about it.”

Both universities have brought in measures to allow rapid testing for any student that wishes it, with kits dispersed throughout each of the various campuses they run and in halls of residence, and systems in place to support anyone who suddenly needs to isolate.

He added that the pressures of the pandemic have been hard on students themselves, who have suffered through not having in-person teaching, and have missed out on major events in the year including last year’s graduation ceremony.

“They’ve all had it really bad,” he said. “There’s a sense of wanting to put everything behind them and have a proper university experience.

“I think they’ve had it rougher than any other generation of students since the Second World War.”

'They have been victimised': Universities hit back at scapegoating of students for Nottingham Covid rates - Nottinghamshire Live

Editor's Note

See also Ben Cooper's follow up article, posted on 17 October 2021:

Lockdown's guilty parties harmed community relations in Nottingham, but so did the careless blame game - Nottinghamshire Live