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Universities have ‘fallen short’ on support for self-isolating students

Office for Students’ panel gives advice on improving care for students in isolation during Covid-19

Universities have been told to improve their communication with self-isolating students after a high-profile student panel said some institutions had “fallen short”.

Writing in a blog post published on 5 October, chair of the Office for Students student panel Martha Longdon said she was “particularly concerned about the impact of the current coronavirus pandemic on students who are having to self-isolate”.

Thousands of students have been told to self-isolate at universities across the UK as the return of students to campus has prompted Covid-19 outbreaks. Despite the increase in Covid-19 outbreaks at universities, education secretary Gavin Williamson has said that face-to-face teaching is still the preferred option.

Longdon said some universities’ attitudes towards self-isolating students had “fallen short of the kind of support we would expect as students” and there had been a lack of communication, clarity and support.

“While we appreciate that the OfS is doing all it can within its power to ensure that students are being supported, we also want to challenge leaders in the sector to listen to and engage with a student-led response to the crisis,” Longdon wrote.

Following an emergency meeting of the student panel, Longdon said universities should consider sending students daily updates to keep them informed, and universities “should also consider sending general updates to parents, guardians or carers of students”.

She added that universities must make sure isolating students can access necessities such as food and medicine, and that students’ religious or cultural beliefs are catered for. Students in self-isolation “may be particularly at risk of feeling isolated or suffering mental ill health,” Longdon said, and she suggested universities “consider creating peer to peer buddying systems”.

OfS chair Michael Barber said the OfS welcomed the “constructive and meaningful challenges that the student panel continue to make” and it would “strive to ensure that their views are reflected in our work”.

He added that universities were “facing enormous challenges” during the Covid-19 pandemic, and while many “are and many are doing a fantastic job…it is critical that vice-chancellors understand student concerns and take practical steps to address the many challenges facing students who are self-isolating”.