Over the weekend, many students, staff, and members of the wider community were shocked by the escalation of measures used to contain self-isolating students in halls across the country. Some of these measures were far more restrictive than any imposed during the March lockdown. Worryingly, the application of these measures lead to students and non-students being treated differently.
Some of the accounts we have heard are deeply troubling, describing difficulties in accessing food, students being obstructed from exiting their premises, a lack of communication from institutions, and the use of security threats to intimidate students into compliance. We will continue to monitor the situation and will actively seek first hand experience and insight from students affected in order to ensure our work is evidence-led.
At Student Minds we are conscious that social distancing and self isolation can have a detrimental impact on student mental health. While we recognise the utmost importance of ensuring that our university communities are Covid-safe, we note that overzealous measures designed not to keep everybody safe and well, but to threaten students, do more harm than good. Where new lockdown restrictions are designed, either by higher education institutions or the government itself, we recommend the following:
Students should not be subject to more stringent self-isolation measures than other groups of the population. Making regulations specifically targeted at students without accommodating for the breadth of student experience is unhelpful. For instance, a mature, commuter student and an eighteen year-old student living in university halls will experience their learning and engage with campus facilities differently. Beyond this, student-specific measures arbitrarily target and penalise certain members of the community, while we have yet to see evidence which unequivocally demonstrates that students are actually more likely to violate social distancing than the wider population.
Mental health and wellbeing considerations must be accounted for at every stage of the decision-making process. The detrimental mental health impacts of self-isolation have been central in public discourse for the last six months. There is no excuse not to account for the potential harm to mental health that lockdown restrictions can inflict. Any such harms should be mitigated as much as possible, with proactive and specific measures and support put in place to ensure that our communities are as safe and healthy as possible. Universities and all levels of government should have a clear plan for how they are going to support students and staff through this period of instability, and be ready for multiple eventualities.
Students and staff should be meaningfully included in decisions about the health and wellbeing of our university communities. At Student Minds, we know the importance of representing and learning from the lived experience of students and staff. Students and university staff know what is happening on the ground and understand what would make them feel safer and more supported. They have a right to be in the room for decisions that affect them, particularly following months of turbulence and uncertainty regarding the shape of higher education this year.
We also note that many university staff have been working flat-out over the summer in order to support students as best they can. Our aim is not to blame these staff, and we want to reaffirm that the contributions of staff in universities and students’ unions have been remarkable throughout this period. However, we implore anybody involved in decisions surrounding lockdown measures to ensure that they are fair, non-discriminatory, and proportionate, with the mental health of our university communities considered at every step of the process.
If you or someone you know is in need of support Student Space is here to help students through the coronavirus pandemic. Access online resources, direct support in a way that is right for you such as through our text support and phone line and find out what support is available at your university.