Russell Group comment on the return of students to in-person teaching

26 March 2021

Commenting on the return of all university students to in-person teaching, which is being reviewed by the Government as part of the roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions in England, Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said:

 “Education has rightly been a priority for Government throughout this pandemic. However, as Ministers consider the next steps out of lockdown, there are thousands of university students across the country on courses such as business, maths and languages who are still waiting to find when – or even if – they will be able to return to in-person teaching this year. Many feel they have been forgotten by Government and fear they will miss out on opportunities that their universities are currently only allowed offer to students on practice-based courses. 

"We are particularly concerned about the impact on student mental health and that some students may not be able to take part in extra activities universities have planned for the rest of the year that would aim to boost employability, consolidate learning and help build networks that could be vital for their future success.

“Our universities have worked hard to make campuses Covid-secure, with twice-weekly testing and very low overall infection rates on campus despite the majority of students now being back in their term-time accommodation. Given the lack of evidence that it would represent a risk in terms of an increased spread of Covid, we would urge the Government to allow all remaining students to have the opportunity to resume in-person teaching from 12 April.”

Additional notes

  • The Russell Group response to the roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions in England published in February 2021 can be found here.
  • The pandemic is being managed well on campus – we are not aware of any major outbreaks on university campuses in 2021 despite the majority of students now living in their term-time accommodation.
  • Since the start of March, the University of Cambridge has identified zero positive cases of Covid among students screened through its asymptomatic testing programme, which 87% of its students have agreed to participate in, and only 8 cases have been confirmed since the start of this term.
  • In the latest week of published data on LFD testing in England (4-10 March), 91,934 tests were conducted in higher education settings and just 102 positive test results were returned (0.1%).
  • SAGE has presented evidence on the safety of teaching spaces on university campuses, showing that ‘when face-to-face learning was happening, minimal cases of transmission were attributed to face-to-face learning environments.’
  • The most recent ONS Student Insights Survey found that over a quarter (26%) of students reported feeling lonely often or always, compared with 8% of the wider GB adult population, while almost two-thirds (63%) of students indicated that their well-being and mental health had worsened since the start of the autumn term 2020.

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