Student Minds responds to government announcement that students can return home for the winter holidays
At Student Minds we welcome the publication of plans which seek to enable students who live on or around campus to return home for the winter holidays. In an announcement on November 11th, the Government shared that students will be advised to travel home in the “student travel window”. This will be facilitated by a programme of mass testing which aims to provide students with the knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions about whether and how to return home. Universities are also being asked to take instruction online from 9th December in order to support this move.
We are now eager to see how provisions will be made for students who will remain in their university area over the holidays, and how the government will ensure a safe return to campus for students in time for the new university term next year.
Please note that we strongly advise students and their loved ones consult instructions from their institution and official government guidance for up-to-date information regarding Covid-19 restrictions and travel.
Facilitating mass-testing amongst the student population
For many students, being able to return to their permanent address to see loved ones will be beneficial for their mental health and wellbeing, especially after the difficulties this autumn term. If a student knows whether they have the coronavirus, they are empowered to make informed decisions about self-isolating or returning home, which protect not only themselves but the wider population. Mass-testing therefore is important in enabling students to protect both their mental health and wider public health. As a result we want the government to ensure that every student will have access to these tests, with universities supported with the necessary resources to facilitate them in a timely, safe, cost-effective manner.
Students who test positive should be provided with adequate support and receive communication to enable them to return home at a later date for the holidays if they wish. As students who want to return home are being encouraged to do so within a narrow timescale, we believe the government ought to ensure sufficient transportation is available to safely accommodate the mass movement of students across the country.
Creating community and supporting students who stay at university for the holidays
We also need to acknowledge that the christmas period can be difficult for students and not everyone will have the ability or preference to go home for the winter holidays. Some students may have a difficult relationship with family members, some may not have a family home to return to, and some students, particularly international students, might find that they can’t or don’t want to risk going home due to travel restrictions.
Therefore, it is essential that there is appropriate support in place for students who remain at university through what can already be a difficult time of year without the additional challenges posed by the pandemic. Students staying at university must have access to essentials such as food and medicine, facilities such as launderettes, and health services. Community-building activities could also provide students with a means to connect with one another and feel less isolated over this period. The provision of all this means appropriate staffing will be necessary. We expect the government and institutions to ensure this is available by ensuring manageable workloads, fair pay, and reasonable responsibilities for university workers, to protect their wellbeing too.
Importance of religious holidays for students
Not all students of faith have been able to celebrate their religious holidays with their loved ones. We’ve seen religious holidays such as Eid and Diwali happening in lockdown. For many students being able to practice their faith and celebrate with their loved ones is key to their mental health and wellbeing. All religious holidays need to be accounted for when making decisions about guidelines that are made for the student population.
The Government needs to share how they will enable students to get back to university safely
Before the student travel window, the government should publish plans detailing how they will get students back to university safely in January for their next academic term. The ability for students to return to their university address may impact their decision to leave for winter break in the first place. Without such a plan for January, we will see another mass migration of students which presents numerous opportunities for disease transmission. As a sector and country we must learn from the lessons of September, to avoid putting students, staff, and our wider communities at risk.
Help and support is available for students right now
We understand that this has been a challenging and uncertain time for many students which is why Student Space is here to support students through the coronavirus pandemic. Students can access direct support via phone, text, web chat or email, information and resources to help them navigate university life and a directory of university support.
At Student Minds we are pleased to be able to confirm that Student Space will be able to support students through the rest of the academic year. We are currently in the process of creating content to support students through the winter holidays and look forward to sharing these with you soon. In the meantime students can explore Becky’s blog and students experiences and tips of the winter holidays on the Student Minds Blog.
Once again, we look forward to hearing the government’s next steps and plans for students to return to campus in 2021. We will continue sharing our concerns for students directly with the Universities Minister's task force and will continue to share our recommendations publicly. Any plans made need to be co-produced in conversation with students and university staff.
Students deserve a say and not to be met with so much uncertainty in their next academic term. It is essential we work together to protect the mental health and wellbeing of our student and university communities during these challenging and uncertain times.