Opinion | Removing free COVID testing on campus shows what the government thinks of students

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Will Peters, Law, First Year

Post-Partygate, the government is in damage control mode, producing rushed and uninformed policies with the sole intent of clawing back public approval.

Like a serial love-cheat, Boris Johnson has showered us with guilt-ridden gifts of ‘Freedom’ and ‘Liberty’.

He is ditching the tunes of ‘YMCA’ and ‘Party Rock Anthem’ in Number 10’s corridors in favour of a contrived swan-song announcing the end of all restrictions. All in an effort to make us so giddy with excitement at the promise of normality that we just so happen to forget the ongoing police investigation unfolding in Westminster.

One such policy is the sudden end of free lateral flow testing for universities.

As a result, students will soon have to pay for tests themselves, with retailers being responsible for setting their own pricing.

Boots Pharmacy recently announced that a single lateral flow test will cost up to £5.99. Despite the recent government announcement, the University of Bristol has continued to encourage students to test twice a week if they are planning on accessing university facilities.

The future appears bleak for students who find themselves having to dig ever deeper into their pockets

This means students will be expected to potentially pay over £10 a week simply as a precautionary measure. Of course, free testing could not have remained forever but forcing students to fork out their own money in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis will have dire financial implications.

Coupled with the recent announcement by the University of Bristol that rent for university accommodation will increase by 5 per cent next year, the future appears bleak for students who find themselves having to dig ever deeper into their pockets.

With the cost of living rising exponentially, Johnson’s government has failed to keep pace and take meaningful action to meet the needs of students.

What makes this entire fiasco more infuriating is the government’s ambivalence and vacillation. This has made things far more complicated than they need to be.

Nadhim Zahawi, for example, the Secretary of State for Education, has called for universities to publish a breakdown of the proportion of in-person teaching compared to online learning.

It is clear that the government cares little for the safety of students

It is hard to understand why the government is demanding more in-person teaching from universities whilst decreasing the safety of our learning environments through discouraging self-testing.

This is all in the context of students having been sold a university experience plagued with disruption, exacerbated by under-developed student wellbeing services.

Thankfully, the National Union of Students has successfully campaigned for over £174 million in student support since the start of the pandemic and have accused the government of treating students as ‘Scapegoats’ in an effort to shift blame away from Westminster.

Credit: Unsplash | Steve Nomax

The narrative pushed by many politicians, including the former Health Secretary, aimed to paint students as reckless and selfish partygoers responsible for passing the virus over to Grandma.

Meanwhile, behind closed doors at Whitehall, politicians exhibited behaviour one would expect from, well, reckless and selfish partygoers: popping champagne and busting out the Twister mat whilst the general public abided by the rules.

The government has shown that self-preservation is their top priority

Now that the appalling behaviour of our government has come to light, it is obvious that the decision to abandon all restrictions was guided by the desire to stave off an impending vote of no confidence rather than the science.

It is clear that the government cares little for the safety of students. We will have to wait and see as to whether they really do care about the quality of university education.

With the considerable cost of self-testing, the safety and wellbeing of students has been cast aside. Those who are anxious or vulnerable will soon be forced to spend great amounts of money simply for reassurance.

Unbelievably, the government has shown that self-preservation is their top priority rather than the wellbeing of young people. How Boris Johnson has clung on for this long is a miracle to everyone, but he remains, laughing it up and rocking it out to the tune of ‘I’m still standing’.

Featured image: Unsplash | Annie Spratt


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