The Prime Minister has promised to work with Loughborough to help re-open the university sector across the country in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, after unveiling his “conditional plan” to start the reopening of society.
During his speech to the House of Commons he reiterated that his new way forward, which includes unlimited outdoor exercise and the return of some people to work from Wednesday, was dependant on the “the common sense and observance of the British people”, and would be reverted if the ‘R’ number (the virus’ reproduction rate) increased above 1.
Additional advice released included recommendations to wear cloth face coverings in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible, the ability to meet one friend or family member in a park or open space whilst complying with social distancing, and 14-day quarantines for those arriving from foreign nations.
Questions still remain, however, about the status of universities as the crisis moves into its next stages. Yesterday in Parliament the MP for Loughborough, Jane Hunt, questioned the Prime Minister on this issue, claiming that Loughborough University “would like to bring back some student athletes to train, and its engineers to attend concentrated lab work sessions, all while maintaining social distancing on campus and isolation from the wider community”.
Mr Johnson confirmed that he would work with universities like Loughborough to help them provide students with access to vital facilities and safely continue their studies, as long as social distancing is maintained, adding that Loughborough is an “outstanding university”.
But Jane Hunt’s comments go against the message that the University itself has given to students, with Vice Chancellor Bob Allison demanding that “all undergraduate and postgraduate taught students do not return to our campuses”, and that all students must “not return to Loughborough University”.
He reiterated that all learning and teaching is now online, with students having no need to return to campus, with it being “too dangerous to manage a total community of nearly 20,000 people”. He promised that as soon as it was possible to do so, and “as soon as government advice allowed”, University management will welcome students back “with open arms”.
The Government’s official guidance makes no mention of when universities might be able to open up, although it does outline a new plan for the gradual re-opening of primary schools no earlier than June 1st.
However, there has been criticism of Boris Johnson’s new strategy from across the political spectrum, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer saying that the plan lacked “clarity and consensus” and “raises as many questions as it answers”. Similarly, criticism has also arisen from the nations of the UK, with the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stressing that the new message did not apply to Scotland, adding that her advice remained to “stay at home”.
All photos © UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor
Originally published in Label on the 12th May 2020