Students urged to get tested by universities minister Michelle Donelan
The call to action comes as university students on practical courses, such as science and engineering, who need to access specialist facilities and equipment, started to return to campus for in-person teaching and learning today, (8 March).
According to the Government’s road map, research labs and libraries can be kept open if needed, with campuses to provide twice-weekly coronavirus testing to staff and students.
Ms Donelan, who graduated from the University of York, said while vital for the Government to prioritise education in the first stages of “unlocking the country” students needed to remain vigilant and do the right thing by following the rules.
She told The Yorkshire Post: “It is right that we prioritise education, as one of the first things to reopen and if we hadn’t there would have been a real prospect of some students not being able to graduate.
“But there is concern around the mass movement of students… The vast majority of students have abided by the rules throughout this pandemic - it is important to stress that, and not to get into a ‘blame game’.
Ms Donelan added: “We all need to be abiding by the rules over the next few weeks and months so hopefully we can get back to a sense of normality.
“I would urge every student who is returning or who is already at university to get tested. It is the key way that we can reduce the spread of the virus.”
For all remaining university students, the Government said it will review, by the end of the Easter holidays, options for pupils to return to campus, with students and institutions to be given a week’s notice ahead of any return.
Ms Donelan, who was the first to attend university from her family, acknowledged it had been a “difficult and challenging” 12 months for students, especially for those waiting to return, but stressed patience was still needed.
She said: “Our key hope is that we can get the rest of the students body back for that final term this year.
“However that will be dependent on the data… Above everything must come our health and reducing the pressure on the NHS and reducing the spread of the virus”.
Almost 200,000 students study in Yorkshire, and the start of the last academic year, (September 2020), saw a two per cent rise of undergraduates starting at universities across the region, compared with the previous year, according to UCAS.
Dr Peter O’Brien, the director for Yorkshire Universities, a group representing 12 institutions in the region, added: “Everybody wants this to be the last national lockdown - we all have to follow those rules and restrictions - that is the message for everyone returning to educational settings”.
While welcoming an additional £70m of hardship funding for students, on top the £256m, from government, he said more funding would need to be made available in the future due to demand for the funding.
He said: "We suggested that the Government will probably need to review this - in light of the demand which has been coming through for the fund.
"It may not be sufficient."
Across the region university brings £2.9bn a year to the economy, and provide more than 54,000 jobs.
Dr O'Brien said long term term investment was needed to ensure there was a “viable higher education sector” in Yorkshire.
He added universities in the region would play a vital role to ‘levelling-up’ the country, and also in the pandemic recovery.
"A viable higher education sector is something that is critical to the long-term future of this country and in particular - to a region like Yorkshire," he said. "We want viable universities here in Yorkshire, that means continuing to invest in higher education and education in all forms."
He added: "More students are going into higher education, there is a question about resources that accompanies that... There is a debate to be had about making sure there is sufficient resources.
“We need to invest in a whole range of capital assets.. To make sure students get that quality and make sure they get that quality education.
"They are key in skills to building back better, to the levelling-up agenda. It’s pretty fundamental for a region like Yorkshire."
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