Opinion | The government's announcement concerning in-person teaching is both belated and unwelcome

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By Joseph Marshall, Chief Proofreader

After months of universities lobbying the government for clarity, it has finally been announced by the Universities Minister that most students will not be returning to in-person teaching until 17th May. In line with most government policies over the last year, this announcement was both belated and unwelcome.

All other things aside, for a government that has claimed to depend on an ‘evidence-based approach’ to getting us out of lockdown, this policy is clearly one that isn’t grounded in reality.

The government says the decision was made because “the movement of students across the country poses a risk for the transmission of the virus”, ignoring the fact that, since January, thousands of students have been to-ing and fro-ing between their homes and accommodation at university. All the while, rates have steadily declined in that same period.

The return date of the 17th May also highlights how oblivious the government has been to the student population’s predicament; in the case of Bristol, teaching block two ends on the 14th May, which is later than many other universities who started term earlier than us.

While there may be a few more students who will have in-person teaching from the 19th April than there were before Easter, many humanities and social sciences students will have to continue as before.

Given that students have been so incensed by the University’s handling of the last year, it is almost miraculous that the government’s ineptitude has united the student population and management against this particular decision.

The government’s ineptitude has united the student population and management against this particular decision

In an email to students on 14thApril, Pro Vice-Chancellor Sarah Purdy wrote “we are all very disappointed by this decision, as I’m sure you are.”

So that’s it: no teaching on campus for anyone whose in-person teaching experience isn’t deemed necessary for their degree for the rest of this academic year. But, hey, at least we can go to the zoo, get our ears pierced, or get a tattoo.

Student policy has been something of a blind spot for the Johnson administration. After months of silence from the government on when students could finally go back, former Bristol SU Officer and current NUS Vice President for Higher Education Hillary Gyebi-Ababio spoke for many of us when she said “we are pleased that the government has finally remembered that students exist.” It’s a small consolation.

The estrangement between today’s students and the Conservatives will be politically significant for decades to come

And yet, it’s not surprising that we’ve been ignored through this pandemic. We were blamed by many for causing spikes late last year, and support on tuition and accommodation finance hasn’t exactly been forthcoming.

The government’s ignorance of the student community and, more broadly, younger people in general has been a pattern of politics here in the UK for some time.

The Liberal Democrats paid the price in the 2015 election for reneging on their promise not to cut tuition fees, hemorrhaging student support in the process.

Bristol University confirms that some students will not receive in-person teaching until next year
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If student support for the Conservatives was low before the pandemic, one can only imagine the depths it surely has stooped to since. The estrangement between today’s students and the Conservatives will be politically significant for decades to come.

Although we had been expecting a return to campus from the 19th April, it’s paradoxically not surprising that the government has put a stop to those hopes. It’s equally unsurprising that they’ve announced this just six days before our supposed return date.

I’ve been on campus around six hours this academic year – but I reckon that’s still a good six hours more than the time that the government’s put into making this decision.

Featured Image: Unsplash / Jordhan Madec


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