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Johnson ignoring ‘overwhelming evidence’ on campus return


University Alliance claims students should be able to resume in-person classes on 12 April

Boris Johnson has ignored “overwhelming evidence” in failing to confirm that all higher education students can return to campus from 12 April, according to the University Alliance.

On 5 April prime minister Johnson confirmed that non-essential businesses such as hairdressers and gyms could reopen from 12 April, but did not commit to the full reopening of university campuses—despite calls from sector bodies.

Vanessa Wilson, chief executive of the University Alliance, said the mission group was “disappointed” that the prime minister had not confirmed full return to face-to-face teaching.

“This is despite overwhelming evidence that our university campuses remain Covid secure with minimal outbreaks and risk to the wider community,” she said. “We will continue to work closely with [Michelle Donelan], the minister for universities, and Department for Education senior officials to make the case for the urgent return of all remaining students.”

While a number of sector bodies, including Universities UK, have also called for a return to in-person teaching from 12 April, the University and College Union has lobbied for online teaching to continue during the pandemic.

University staff ‘burnt out’

UCU general secretary Jo Grady has said universities “should not…be asking hundreds of thousands of students to return for in-person teaching after Easter when most courses will only have revision classes and exams left”.

“University staff are burnt out from the chaotic and unsustainable demands which the sector has placed on them this year and we will not let universities sacrifice their well-being on the altar of short-term financial incentives,” she said last month.

Also speaking in March, a spokesperson for the Department for Education cautioned that the government was “committed to getting all students back into university as soon as the public health situation allows”, and it “will be reviewing options for the timing of the return of all remaining students by the end of the Easter holidays”.

“Decisions will take into account the need to protect progress across the wider roadmap out of the pandemic, including the spread of the virus in communities and pressures on the NHS,” the spokesperson said.